BPS, developers present McCormack plans
Last year, the Boston Public Schools’ plan to sell off the playing fields next to the John W. McCormack Middle School in Dorchester appeared to come to a halt as students and local abutters raised concerns about the loss of open space and a development process that appeared to put developers first.
Last Wednesday, BPS officials and the prospective developers of the land presented plans to move the project forward.
The Boys & Girls Clubs of Dorchester teamed up with the Martin Richard Foundation and were the sole respondents to a request for proposals released by the city in 2018 for the redevelopment of the land next to the school, which currently includes a sports field, a playground and two basketball courts.
Over the last two years, McCormack students and residents of the abutting Harbor Point housing development argued that the land ought to remain open to preserve outdoor space for recess and sports.
Yet at last Wednesday’s School Committee meeting, Rob Consalvo, who handles intergovernmental relations for the district, said BPS will advance the plan.
“Our intention is to make the recommendation that we move forward with a lease to the sole applicant who responded to the RFP that we put out.”
The department’s push to advance the project seemed to come out of the blue, according to School Committee member Lorna Rivera, who told the Banner that committee members received the PowerPoint presentation from the developers at 2:30 Wednesday afternoon, just two-and-a half-hours before the 5 p.m. meeting.
“Why would this even be coming up at this point?” she said.
Students and teachers at the McCormack have argued for the preservation of open space, but Consalvo said the students don’t use the space in the winter, a point teacher Neema Avashia disputes.
“Every day it is above 32 degrees, as long as there isn’t snow or ice out there, we have recess outside,” she told the Banner.
The plan advanced by the nonprofits calls for an indoor sports facility with three basketball courts at ground level, a track at the second level and a turf field on the third level. A separate wing would contain smaller exercise rooms and activity rooms.
Consalvo said the facility would be made available to the McCormack School, the abutting Dever Elementary School and other BPS schools in the area.
The RFP also called for a facility that would lease space to sports teams.
“The business model for the facility outlined in the RFP calls for a sharing of space for revenue-generating league sports,” said Kevin Deabler, an architect working on the proposal. “The gym and field are then like the engine, sort of generating demand and driving public use.”
Deabler said the plans have taken into consideration calls for open space. Although the area now occupied by basketball courts would be used for parking, the buildings are set at angles, leaving triangular patches of grass around the outside of the parcel.
But critics of the plan say it hasn’t taken into consideration the perspectives of the students and Harbor Point residents, who in School Committee meetings and community meetings asked that the fields be improved or left as is, not built on.
Boys & Girls Clubs of Dorchester President and CEO Bob Scannell noted that he had met with the students from the schools that currently use the fields.
“We had a chance to meet with them on two occasions, and it was just wonderful,” he said. “That’s where you have to start a process, listening to the children.”
Avashia said that the students presented their own proposals to Boys & Girls Clubs of Dorchester representatives during the meetings. None of the students’ plans for the fields included an indoor facility.
Laura Carroll, an attorney for the Harbor Point Community Task Force, said the RFP release and most of the meetings happened before the district announced that the McCormack would be transitioned from a middle school to a 7-12 school.
“To say we’re going to give away land to belonging to BPS to build something for young kids at the same time you’re talking about tripling the size of the student body and bringing in teenagers makes no sense,” she said at the School Committee meeting. “I really urge you to put a halt on that until plans for the new McCormack 7-12 school are established, know what footprint it wants, know what it needs for athletic facilities before you do this giveaway to the Boys & Girls Club.”
Some School Committee members appeared to express support for the project during the meeting.
School Committee Chairman Michael Loconto praised the prospective developers for their efforts to advance the project.
“This is a long time coming,” he said. “We know you folks collectively have been hard at work for a number of months since you’ve put in your RFP, and certainly a long time before that. You’ve been pounding the pavement to talk about your proposal and create that support. I think that’s evident in the 67 letters of support that you mentioned.”
Jeri Robinson, however, echoed Carroll’s question of whether the plan takes into consideration the needs of the larger and older student body at the McCormack school.
“As the school transitions from middle school to 7-12, how will outdoor activity be balanced with indoor activity?” she asked.
Rivera questioned whether the district has taken into account the objections of Harbor Point residents, noting that community members have asked for a pause while the McCormack School design is planned.
“Really, we should be centering, as BPS, the McCormack School’s needs and the Dever, and be thinking about what construction plans need to shift to serve older students,” she said.
Consalvo acknowledged the importance of a planning process.
“Planning is a hugely important issue in any neighborhood,” he said, adding that the Boston Planning and Development Agency will oversee a larger planning process for the peninsula. UMass officials are planning to redevelop the nearby sprawling Bayside site.
“We’ve already spoken with the BPDA,” Consalvo said. “They are overseeing the thoughtful planning process as it relates to that entire community.