Mayor Thomas M. Menino announced Friday the City of Boston’s intentions to acquire 585 Commercial St. as a site to be used for a new downtown school, expected to open in September of 2016.
Design for the new downtown school will begin in the fall of 2013, with construction expected to begin in June 2015. The Commercial Street facility will be used over the next two years as swing space for the Eliot K-8 School, as that school is expanded to the North Bennett Street School at 37-39 North Bennet St. and 48-52 Tileston St. in the North End. Eight classrooms and public space will serve Eliot students in the fifth through eighth grades through June 2015.
On Friday, Boston Public Schools (BBP) also released new figures that indicate more families are choosing BPS, with an eight percent increase in students requesting kindergarten (K2) seats for this fall. This year, 289 more families requested a K2 seat during the first round of registration as compared to last year. If trends continue, next year’s BPS enrollment will be at its highest level in eight years with an enrollment of 58,271.
“It’s a great day for our downtown families who have been very patient as we’ve worked to find a solution that would allow their children to attend a Boston Public School close to home,” Menino said. “Today’s announcement marks another step forward as we work to improve our entire Boston Public Schools system, where more parents are choosing to send their children every year.”
Upon completion and pending School Committee approval, the school will accommodate more than 500 students in grades K to eight. The location offers direct access to the Harborwalk, a skating rink, tennis courts, bus routes and parking. Children from downtown neighborhoods would have access to the school, as well as families from East Boston and other neighborhoods identified in the BPS facilities long-term strategic plan if needed.
“We are thrilled that Mayor Menino has found a solution to the need for a Boston Public School that will serve a growing population of downtown families,” said Superintendent Carol R. Johnson. “This decision will allow us to open the doors for hundreds more students whose parents will now be able to make BPS their first choice.”
Over the past decade, the number of school-age children has increased by 23 percent in downtown Boston; by 36 percent in the Back Bay; and by 20 percent in Beacon Hill. The city closed downtown schools more than 30 years ago, because, at the time, few expected these neighborhoods would again attract so many young families. Throughout Menino’s tenure, downtown families have asked for a Boston Public
School that could serve as a first choice for their children to attend.
The Boston City Council must vote to approve funding from surplus property to acquire property. The proposal will be submitted to the council yesterday, along with a request for an expedient hearing. The new school will also require approval from the Boston School Committee.
“Thanks to the hard work of our community and the Mayor, this is a major victory for downtown parents, who believe in the Boston Public Schools and want to continue to raise their families in the City,” Councilor Mike Ross said.
Over the past several years, the city, along with the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) and Boston Public Schools, has scoured neighborhoods and pursued dozens of sites and buildings for the purpose of a downtown school. The city also expanded capacity at the nearby Warren-Prescott and the popular Eliot School in an effort to accommodate downtown families.
Menino and city officials have met repeatedly with parents from the Back Bay, West End, North End, Waterfront, Beacon Hill and parts of Charlestown, as well as representatives from Hill House on Beacon Hill, the West End Parent Group, the Beacon Hill Civic Association (BHCA), the North End Waterfront Mothers Association and the Downtown North Association.