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City plans to move O’Bryant High School to West Roxbury complex

Move allows Madison Park Vocational Technical High School to expand

Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller is the former senior editor of the Bay State Banner. He has written for the Banner since 1988.... VIEW BIO
City plans to move O’Bryant High School to West Roxbury complex
The West Roxbury Education Complex will undergo a thorough renovation beginning in 2025. PHOTO: YAWU MILLER

Five years ago, the Boston School Committee voted to close the West Roxbury Education Complex, citing city reports that the school building was unsafe.

Now, the city is proposing a new life for the complex, and for two of the city’s high schools. Mayor Michelle Wu announced Monday the John D. O’Bryant School of Mathematics and Technology will relocate in the coming years to a renovated West Roxbury Education Complex building.

Speaking during a press briefing Monday, Wu said the move is part of the district’s long-term plans to rebuild and renovate high school buildings to better accommodate the needs of students and provide facilities such as gymnasiums, auditoriums and lab space to all schools.

The move will allow Madison Park Vocational Technical High School to expand in the building it currently shares with the O’Bryant on Malcolm X Boulevard in Roxbury, and, Wu said, improve the O’Bryant as well.

“This would allow for the O’Bryant to really have a fully built-out commitment to STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), all the spaces for the engineering programs that the young people told us they wish they had,” Wu said during the Monday briefing. “They wish that there were more opportunities to really dive into being a math and science school and partner with employers and other institutions and that we would have the space there to fully build out those partnerships.”

Wu said the new facility also will allow the O’Bryant to expand its student body from the current enrollment of just under 1,600 students to 2,000.

“There will be a brand-new high school campus in that location,” Wu said of the process.

The West Roxbury Education Complex will undergo a thorough renovation beginning in 2025, according to BPS Chief of Capital Planning Del Stanislaus.

“We’re not knocking it down,” she said of the complex. “It will be a thorough gut-renovation of the building, down to the studs.”

Stanislaus did not give an estimate of when the project would be completed.

The closure of the complex in 2018 sparked controversy, as students complained BPS officials did not sufficiently accommodate the two school communities sharing the building — Urban Science Academy and West Roxbury Academy. Students with autism who received educational services at West Roxbury Academy were transferred to general education classes with no special accommodations.

While school officials, backed by the city’s Inspectional Services Division, said the complex was unsafe for students, shortly after it closed, the Boston Police Department began using the buildings for trainings.

City councilors, including Wu, who was an at-large councilor at that time, signed a letter criticizing BPS for implementing a school closure without adequate short-term and long-term planning for the students. Students who were taught in supportive classrooms at West Roxbury Academy were transferred to schools including the Jeremiah Burke, where few if any services for autistic students were available.

Asked whether the district had compiled information on where students from the two closed schools ended up, Skipper said they hadn’t.

“I don’t think a formal study has been done to be honest with you, where the students went,” she said.

Skipper said the planned renovation of the West Roxbury building is part of a larger initiative to strengthen the city’s high schools that will include expanding students’ access to college coursework, increasing access to Advanced Placement courses and renovating school buildings. The district also plans to implement a “hub schools” strategy, fostering connections between schools and area businesses and nonprofits through which students would have options for internships and jobs.

The O’Bryant’s move from the Madison Park building will enable the vocational-technical school to expand its student body and course offerings as well.

Wu said the district’s efforts to improve its high schools will expand opportunities for all high school students.

“The high school experience is so fragmented and high-stress for families making decisions. We want to be a district where the offerings and the opportunities within our district match the possibilities and potential that the anchor institutions surrounding us, the economic opportunities around us, really are providing for the larger community. That has to connect to and start with serving our students,” she said.

Skipper said BPS has not yet determined the cost of renovations at the West Roxbury campus. The city will not rely on state funding for the project, she said.

Madison Park High School, when it was completed in 1978,  was the largest school building east of the Mississippi River and housed both the high school and the Hubert H. Humphrey Occupational Resource Center — a vocational technical school that was part of Madison Park High School. The O’Bryant — then Boston Technical High School — was then housed in the Townsend Street building that was formerly Roxbury Memorial High School.

In 1991, Boston Latin Academy moved into the Roxbury Memorial building while the O’Bryant moved into the Madison Park building. Madison Park High School now occupies the Humphrey Center portion of the building complex.

Madison Park Vocational Technical High School, Mayor Michelle Wu, O'Bryant High School, West Roxbury Education Complex