McCormack students want school to keep field
Boys and Girls Club plan calls for indoor sports facility
Most days during the summer and on weekends, Joseph Vizcaino heads over to the McCormack school yard where he and other teens from the Harbor Point housing development play football and soccer on the field and ride skateboards on the asphalt.
“There’s no other big field where we can play,” he says.
Vizcaino attends the McCormack Middle School, so on school days, he and other students play on the fields during recess.
But the open stretch of green space — a rarity in Boston Public Schools — may soon be no more. On June 24, Boston Public Schools released a request for proposals to develop a parcel of land that includes the McCormack school’s baseball diamond and field, a playground and an expanse of pavement that includes two basketball courts.
After three weeks, BPS closed the request for proposal process having received one response: a proposal from the Boys and Girls Clubs of Dorchester and the Martin Richard Foundation for a $30 million indoor sports and community center that would feature a field house for soccer, football, lacrosse and other sports. Under the proposal, priority would be given to the McCormack School and adjacent Dever Elementary School during school hours.
McCormack students and Harbor Point residents interviewed by the Banner objected to the proposal.
Student Anthony Aguire said BPS should leave the land alone, noting with the McCormack school’s transition to a 7-12 school, athletic fields will be even more important.
“There will be a high school here,” he said. “We’ll have six grades and 900 kids. They should leave the fields there for future grades.”
As Aguire noted, McCormack’s transformation will nearly triple its student body from the current 300-or-so students to 900. School officials have not yet disclosed how the additional students will be accommodated on the site — whether floors will be added to the existing building or whether the buildings will expand outward.
Students and school staff are as much in the dark about the renovation plans as they are about the loss of their athletic fields. No one in the McCormack school community was consulted before the RFP was released, noted Ruby Reyes, who heads the Boston Education Justice Alliance.
“The people who are going to be most dramatically impacted are not part of the conversation,” she said.
Sequence of events
BPS officials first proposed seeking a private entity to redevelop the fields in May of last year. Students from the McCormack school and Harbor Point residents expressed opposition to the plan then, citing a need for open playing fields.
In a November meeting, then-BPS Chief of Staff Rob Consalvo said the school department did not have a specific plan to redevelop the fields.
“We have a fantastic opportunity to work with a public private partner to create world-class fields for the greater community in Dorchester and South Boston,” Consalvo told Harbor Point residents during a Nov. 5 meeting reported on by Schoolyard News.
At that time, BPS officials had announced plans to close the McCormack school as part of a larger reorganization plan that included eliminating middle schools in favor of K-6 and 7-12 school configurations. BPS officials backed off of that plan in December of last year, agreeing that the school would merge with the Boston Community Leadership Academy high school and relocate into the McCormack building after a two-year renovation to the structure.
In an interview with the Banner, Consalvo noted that BPS officials did present the proposal for an RFP to the School Committee twice and met with Harbor Point residents, as well as with the Dever School community and members of the Columbia-Savin Hill Civic Association.
The RFP, which was advertised in the Boston Herald, the City Record and the Commonwealth Central Register, is part of a two-year process BPS undertook, according to Consalvo, who now serves as a senior advisor to the BPS superintendent.
“We solicited feedback about what people would like to see if we entered into a public/private partnership to redevelop the site,” he said.
But Consalvo acknowledged that the McCormack school community, which would lose its schoolyard, was never consulted.
Students interviewed by the Banner said they would have appreciated the opportunity to weigh in.
“It feels disrespectful, honestly, to not tell the students who are here that they’re going to wipe out an entire yard without the school’s consent,” said student Solomon Gomes.
The proposal first needs to pass a vote from the Boston School Committee. If approved, the project would include a turf field, an elevated three-lane running track, a fitness center, classrooms, a nutrition center and locker rooms. The proposal calls for a small portion of the parcel of land to remain open. A pair of basketball courts are depicted in the architect’s rendering.
The space would remain available to McCormack students and students from other BPS schools. When not in use by students, the facility could be rented out to adult sports teams.
“The vision for the [field house] is to create an inclusive, welcoming space unprecedented in the Dorchester community and indeed in the city as a whole,” wrote proponents Bill Richard of the Martin Richard Foundation and Bob Scannell of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Dorchester in their proposal. “The [Field House] will be a symbol of inclusion to all of Boston.”
If approved by the School Committee, the transfer of the land will not be the first for BPS this year. In March, BPS officials transferred the vacant Roger Williams school building in Hyde Park to the city’s Department of Neighborhood Development for sale to be redeveloped as housing.
On Friday afternoon last week, the McCormack fields, buzzing with teens just out of school, were anything but vacant.
Like other McCormack students interviewed by the Banner, Rosalye Mejia said she wants the open space to remain the property of the McCormack school. She pointed toward a group of children playing on the asphalt.
“How can you take this away from them?” she said.