Mayor Wu offers ambitious plan to rebuild BPS in a decade

Boston Mayor Michelle Wu announced a $2 billion launch of an initiative to rebuild the city’s public schools, the second plan in six years to promise broad infrastructure improvements to buildings.

In 2016, former Mayor Marty Walsh unveiled his $1 billion BuildBPS initiative, but those plans have yet to result in a fully completed school.The 125-school district has been in dire need of improvements, from the absence of HVAC systems in most schools to unusable water fountains, leaky roofs and water-stained ceilings in aging buildings that have undergone patchwork repairs. The pandemic has only made such infrastructure problems more apparent.

“This is a really thrilling announcement and one we’ve been working toward for quite some time,” Wu said in front of a crowd at the McKinley Elementary School, which has not had major improvements in decades. “The current state of many of our schools’ facilities compromises the health of our students, our educators, our communities, and directly impacts educational opportunity.”

Wu said McKinley schools in the South End and Fenway as well as 13 other schools would be part of a first round of rehabilitation or new construction beginning in July, pending approval of the city budget by the Boston City Council. The others are:

  • Building a new educational complex at Madison Park Technical Vocational High in Roxbury
  • State-of-the-art renovating the Blackstone Elementary in the South End, the Martin Luther King K-8 in Dorchester, the PJ Kennedy Elementary in East Boston and the Cleveland building in Dorchester, which houses the Community Academy of Science and Health
  • Securing a long-term home for the Horace Mann School for the Deaf at Allston
  • Building a new high school at the vacated West Roxbury Education Complex
  • Expanding the Otis School in East Boston with a new building on Paris Street
  • Establishing new elementary schools in Roxbury, Dorchester, Mattapan and on the Jackson Mann K-8 campus in Allston
  • Renovating and reconfiguring the Timilty Middle School at Roxbury and the Irving Middle at Roslindale
  • Major upgrades to White Stadium, an athletic complex in Franklin Park

Some parents say the new initiative might be good, but time will tell. Vernée Wilkinson, director of the Family Advisory Board at SchoolFacts Boston, a parents group, said they simply want functional schools and have been asking for years.

“This feels like a rebranding for BuildBPS,” Wilkinson said. “And BuildBPS didn’t go well and serve parents in the way they deserve.”

Wu said she wanted to see improvements made at every school in the district in the next decade, calling her goal an ambitious one.

Efforts to build or refurbish schools have been slow-going. Six years after the launch of BuildBPS, not one school project has been completed, said Will Austin, founder and chief executive of the Boston Schools Fund. (The Carter and Quincy school projects in Lower Roxbury and Chinatown, respectively, are still underway.)

Austin said what distinguishes Wu’s effort is that she has not simply allocated time and money but outlined an outcome.

“It is a bigger promise to deliver to families and educators,” than Walsh’s Build BPS, Austin said. “And to do that, you need strong centralized planning, and you need a lot of money.”

Wu said the city will add hires in its operations department and has been working with other parties, including developers and the state, on how to create a faster timeline, while acknowledging that government construction processes move slowly, a point of frustration when she was involved with the BuildBPS initiative as a city councilor.

“Our pace cannot be at the usual speed of government,” she said, adding a note of reassurance: “We’re going to get it all done.”

Wu said the McKinley School in Boston’s South End, where she made the announcement, is among the most outdated in the district and serves some of the city’s most marginalized students, including a large number of Black and Latino boys and young men with special needs.

“For too long our infrastructure has not provided the baseline for our students’ needs: clean air, safe water and an environment conductive to learning,” Wu said.

Edith Bazile, a former BPS administrator and frequent critic of the district, said she was optimistic and thankful for Wu’s efforts.

“I know of many students who have been sent here,” she said, referring to the McKinley. “And I’m just so excited that this facility will now have everything that it needs to ensure that our students and in the city of Boston are able to realize their potential In creating a pathway for college, a vocation, whatever they desire. “

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