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No agreement on McCormack field lease

School community calls on BPS officials to keep athletic fields open

Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller is the Banner’s senior editor. VIEW BIO
No agreement on McCormack field lease
A proposed athletic facility would start where the chain link fence is at right in this Banner file photo.

When Boston Public Schools officials first made public last year the idea of redeveloping the McCormack Middle School’s athletic field and schoolyard in a public-private partnership, then-BPS Superintendent Tommy Chang and other department officials stressed that the desires of the McCormack school community would drive the process.

“We want to make sure the community actually decides how this land will be used for years and years and years to come,” Chang said in a May 11, 2018 meeting.

From the outset, McCormack students, teachers and residents of the abutting Harbor Point neighborhood testified against what many saw as an attempt to transfer public open space into private hands.

A Google Maps view of the athletic field, school yard and basketball courts.

A Google Maps view of the athletic field, school yard and basketball courts.

Despite Boston School Committee members’ calls for the McCormack school community to have a say in schoolyard redevelopment plans, BPS officials never even informed the students, parents and teachers at the school when the request for proposals (RFP) to develop the land was drafted, nor when it was released on June 24.

News of the RFP and the single response, an indoor sports facility proposed by the Boys and Girls Club of Dorchester and the Martin Richard Foundation, came to the attention of the public and the McCormack school community in early October of 2019, catching many by surprise.

Last Tuesday, BPS officials and representatives of the Boys and Girls Club of Dorchester and the Martin Richard Foundation met at the adjacent Dever School with some of the McCormack staff and students who have been pushing back on the plan.

“I don’t want you to come here still trying to convince us the field house is a good thing,” said one student quoted in the Boston Parent Schoolyard News. “We said no. So you should be open to hearing what we want.”

Another student drew a large-scale diagram of a newly designed schoolyard with a soccer field between the existing baseball field and basketball courts on the land, an updated playground and outdoor seating area.

The meeting was yet another discordant note in a process in which BPS officials appear to have ignored the requests of School Committee members who expressly called for input from the McCormack students, teachers and parents in the drafting of the RFP.

The process, or lack thereof, appears to have pitted some members of the School Committee against BPS officials who worked to advance the RFP.

Megan Wolf, a parent with the group Quality Education for Every Student (QUEST), played up that discord during testimony at last Wednesday’s School Committee meeting.

“I don’t know where the School Committee goes from here,” she said, addressing the body. “I imagine many of you are disturbed at the process and at the lack of attention to the voices of the community. And the lack of attention to your own concerns and resolution. I can tell you that many of us who’ve followed the process are also deeply disturbed. It raises serious questions about the ways in which the district and School Committee monitors and enforces its own resolutions.”

In a shot across the school department’s bow, Lawyers for Civil Rights fired off a letter Oct. 30 to School Committee Chairman Michael Loconto. The letter raised concerns about the lack of engagement with the McCormack school community in the land disposition process, the “incongruity of the decision to eliminate McCormack’s only green space with the imminent expansion of the school,” and “detrimental environmental consequences” of the proposed project, which LCR argued would contradict the city’s Resilient Boston Harbor initiative’s mandate to maintain green space as a way to mitigate flooding.

The McCormack, which is slated to merge with Boston Community Leadership Academy over the next two years, is expected to increase in size from its current 360 students to more than 900 students. In the LCR letter, attorney Lauren Sampson questions whether the new facility would suit the needs of a 7-12 school with sports teams.

“Although students at McCormack and the neighboring Dever Elementary School will be granted priority in the proposed athletic facility, this will only apply during school hours, leaving students to compete for the only public recreational space in the community in afternoons, evenings, and weekends with paying visitors,” she writes.

At last Wednesday’s meeting, QUEST member Peggy Wiesenberg urged the School Committee to halt the land disposition process.

“It is not in the best interest of the City or the Boston Public Schools to proceed when it does not advance what students, teachers, parents and community have repeatedly told you that they want: Preservation of open space and improvements to the McCormack outdoor athletic field,” she testified.

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