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McCormack school land grab

An insidious land grab process is occurring in the middle of a pandemic.

Ruby Reyes
McCormack school land grab
A sports field, playground and basketball courts are currently used by McCormack students and abutters. Google Earth image

An insidious land grab process is occurring in the middle of a pandemic. The city is attempting to develop the green space nestled between the John McCormack and Paul A. Dever Schools, and Harbor Point apartments while schools are closed and while our communities are in crisis. The proposed project to build a Boys and Girls Club, was presented at the July 22, 2020 School Committee.

Bill Richard of the Martin Richard Foundation, Boys and Girls Club leaders and Rob Consalvo, BPS Senior Advisor made a hard pitch for the project, claiming there was authentic community engagement and the community was in support of the project, which is not true. The McCormack community has spent the past several years fighting the city and BPS.

On April 11, 2018, Dr. Makeeba McCreary, former BPS External Affairs Director and Sheila Dillon, Chief of Housing, proposed to subdivide green space at Columbia Point. At the April 11 School Committee meeting, when asked about whether school communities knew about the project, McCreary replied, “I have no idea, I would imagine no.”

Since then, there has been a downward spiral of ignoring the needs and voices of the school and Harbor Point communities. Despite all of the community input asking for green space, BPS released a Request For Proposals (RFP) in June 2019, that suggested building a field house there. The RFP was open for two weeks, resulting in a lone proposal from Boys and Girls Club. Is this surprising? No, because the RFP process was broken.

There was no student engagement. Students got involved by finding out about the fieldhouse project in the newspaper. The students expressed a desire for green space, especially important in the context of both climate change and the pandemic. They testified in droves at school committee meetings, yet there were no adjustments to the initial plan. Included in the testimony was the Harbor Point Task, a volunteer, resident-elected group, which strongly opposes the plan and even engaged a lawyer to help them fight it. The residents also want green space.

School Committee members repeatedly vocalized their concerns for community input. BPS pushed for a community engagement process that ensured active involvement in writing the RFP. O’Neill even edited the resolution to include the following language, “BPS and DND will actively seek input from students, school and community input and involvement to inform the drafting of the RFP.” At a May 9, 2018 meeting, Consalvo explained, “At the end of the day, if the community can’t agree on what the use should be…then it stays just as it is.”

At the July 22, 2020, Consolvo cited there were ten community meetings about the project. He included the April 11 School Committee, which was the first time anyone heard about the project. However, Consolvo failed to highlight the multiple and repeated community voices stressing the importance of maintaining green space, rather than the proposed field house.

The RFP was constructed specifically for the Martin Richard Foundation and Boys and Girls Club fieldhouse, which is not what the community wants. To sweeten the deal, the Mayor committed $200,000 to begin a public process to study future design improvements to the remaining open space at the Columbia Point Parcel, thereby ensuring the Boys and Girls Club proposal.

The Mayor should commit $200,000 to a community process that takes place before an RFP has been issued. We need to start the process over and hold Consalvo to the promise he made in May 2018.

There are more reasons to start the process over. In October 2018, the district announced the McCormack was slated to be closed. Students mobilized and successfully overturned this decision. The McCormack will be reconfigured into a 7-12 school, which requires a land design that supports the students in this new configuration.

Mayor Walsh has repeatedly stated, “racism is a public health issue.” On June 12, 2020, Denise Richard of the Martin Family Foundation stated, “We recognize the time to reaffirm our commitment to anti-racism and social justice is now.”

This development process highlights a lack of commitment to authentic community process as well as a Mayor who wants to continue gentrifying low income communities of color. If the Martin Family Foundation and Mayor Walsh are committed to the Mayor’s words of “racism is a public health crisis,” They will restart the process, do what the neighbors want, and stop pushing the Boys and Girls Club field house.

Ruby Reyes is director of the Boston Education Justice Alliance

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