History of Fort Hill, Part 2 (2008). Mural by: Loray McDuffie, Taylor Saintable, Edwin Perez-Clancy, Christine O'Connell, Julia Andreasson, Jorge Benitez, Divah Payne, Lucy Saintcyr, Laua Dedonato, Gregg Bernstein.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Bridge Boston gets its charter: Going to Milford for Boston news

Fer cryin' out loud.

About an hour after the news breaks that 16 of 17 commissioner-recommended charter schools have been approved by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, only the Milford Daily News lists the approved schools, while Boston news outlets go just as far as, but no farther, than telling that only Lynn Preparatory was not approved for a charter.

Would it kill Boston news outlets to spend the extra pixels to give readers the list of approved schools; or, are they content to make us grub through their previous articles?

Meanwhile, back on Fort Hill, this vote means Bridge Boston has surmounted the charter hurdle. What remains is the financing.

And, the abutters, the neighbors, & the zoning.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Superman & subsurface charter school animus

Before the response of the concerned abutters and neighbors was published on the Highland Park Community Association listserv, the comments there were trending in an interesting direction.

A surprisingly prompt grandfatherly nudge started out the short-lived discussion.  A sage elder suggested, why not rename the school the William Lloyd Garrison Bridge Charter School?  A few commenters seconded that proposal and one suggested the WLG Independent Living Center for Active Aging.  If you get his drift.

Then the haft of an ideological knife was exposed in a half dozen further comments:

What about the adverse effect a new charter school would have on the existing schools in the neighborhood?  Charter schools under perform.  Charter schools exert a downward pressure on teacher salaries.  Charter schools exploit recent college graduates.  Why "invite" a charter school into our neighborhood when our first priority should be to quality schools and producing dignifying jobs.  Charter schools cherry pick students.  Boston University's experience in Chelsea is a warning to us to resist the temptation to wait for Superman to solve our education problems.  Reagan's "permanent underclass" even got a brief mention.

Give the moderator, Mr. Rodney Singleton, credit.  His immediate response to this spate was to invite teachers and administrators to tomorrow's second annual neighborhood summit.  It's not clear where he sits on the issue, but the explicit invitation to the summit seemed to tamp down the ideological rhetoric against charter schools, per se.  Especially as the concerned abutters and neighbors never use the phrase "charter school" in their Guiding Principles document, concentrating their attention on zoning and traffic issues; although, they do express concern about the city-wide character of the proposed school.

For folks attending the summit tomorrow, it will be interesting to see whether character-of-the-neighborhood issues of zoning and traffic are drowned out by an ideological dispute over settled commonwealth educational policy.

Of charter schools & bars & grocery stores

Tranquility of Highland Park

The statement of the abutters and neighbors is clear:  That part of the neighborhood at the head of Highland Park Ave is tranquil.  The convent's property at the bottom of their ledge abuts an equally tranquil Highland Street.  In the abutters' and neighbors' view, when the sisters built their extension to St. Monica's Home twenty years ago they undertook to preserve that tranquil character.  The abutters and neighbors believe that the residential character of the neighborhood must be preserved and the prominent features (can we say, "amenities"?) of the William Lloyd Garrison House and the park at the High Fort must not be negatively impacted.

Concerned by the noise from a twelve-hour school day, vehicle trips generated by a 335-student school (school bus trips and parent vehicle trips), overflow parking, physical education classes at the High Fort, and a city-wide catchment, the abutters and neighbors conclude their tranquility would be shattered.

It seems helpful to draw together several examples of a proposed change of use, each of  which has presented other abutters, neighbors, and property owners with similar challenges.

Bar and restaurant on Centre Street

This time last year, a busier section of Highland Park was confronted with a somewhat similar change of use.  A disused former store on a 5851-square-foot lot at 85 Centre Street was intended by a potential buyer to house an 11 a.m. to midnight bar and restaurant with a 7-day liquor license for 75 patrons, including an outdoor patio.

Grocery stores in JP and South Boston

Recently, all Jamaica Plain has been in an uproar over the closing of a Latino-focused grocery store and its replacement by the upmarket Whole Foods.

At 300 West First Street, South Boston, the owner, Pappas Enterprises, has been working assiduously to attract a grocery store tenant for a 55,000-square-foot store to be built on that property.  As recounted in The Boston Bulletin (17 Feb 2011, page 1), the CEO, Tim Pappas, has "presented [the property] to every market you can think of and probably some you haven't because they are out of state."  The residents are desperate for a new grocery store for the area, which used to have three grocery stores.  They are dissatisfied by the Stop & Shop at 713 East Broadway and would disapprove of a second Stop & Shop at the 300 West First Street address.

Neighborhood opposition & cooperation with the neighborhood

In the Centre Street example, the nuisance of off-hill patrons flocking into the neighborhood to eat, drink, and listen to jazz until midnight motivated the immediate neighbors to rise up in opposition, although slightly more distant Highland Park residents seemed in favor of the proposal.

In the Hi-Lo/Whole Foods imbroglio, retiring owners, unable or unwilling to  pass the Hi-Lo brand onto a suitable successor, sold out for a nice price, exposing simmering class hostility among the churning population of JP.  (See this Jamaica Plain Gazette article.)

In the South Boston example, a long-time local business with concern for the neighborhood has worked diligently to find a grocery-store tenant for its land that will satisfy the neighborhood needs.

On Centre Street, at the margin of Highland Park, the neighbors rose up quickly to oppose a non-conforming use.  Near the the top of Fort Hill, the neighbors are afraid that an apparently conforming institutional use will abrogate a 20-year-old understanding with the departing owners and in so doing upend their status quo.

Two divergent alternatives

In the examples of the grocery stores, the Sisters of St. Margaret perhaps can see two diverging approaches.  The sisters seem to have inclined toward the Hi-Lo/Whole Foods model, selling out for a decent price enabling them to pull up stakes for Duxbury to concentrate on their charitable work in Haiti (out of Louisburg Square in 1992, and now, two decades later, out of Roxbury).  Under a purchase and sale agreement with Bridge Boston, they seem bound to play out this hand.

An alternative would have been to follow Tim Pappas's lead and work to find a new owners whose use would better conform to the current character and needs of the neighborhood.

Next hurdles for Bridge Boston

The P&S is apparently contingent on Bridge Boston obtaining a state charter, financing, and Zoning Board of Appeal approval.  Given the effectiveness with which the Bridge Boston backers established the Epiphany School in their own brand new building so soon after they founded the school, we doubt funding will be a problem for Mr. Peter Keating and his colleagues.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

2nd Annual Neighborhood Summit—Sat, 26 Feb from 10:30 am to noon—ish

We have been bad.  We received notice on the 19th and are only now getting around to making this post about the Highland Vision meeting at the Paige Academy this Saturday from 10:30 am to noon.  Here is their website.

Whoever plastered notices on the light posts all along Cedar and Highland streets certainly got our attention.  They were the reminder we needed.

2nd Annual Neighborhood Summit

26 February 2011
10:30 am to 12:00 pm@ 26 Highland Ave(Paige Academy)
Please join us, to craft 2011’s workplan for creating
a more inclusive, livable, and tightly-knit Highland Park, Roxbury.

Here's a sampling of the issues to be discussed and acted upon at the summit in small groups:

* Open/Green Space Initiative (coordinated by Bill Lotero and Donnie Dixon, an effort to rezone buildable city lots)
* Sale of St. Margaret's Convent
* Traffic (study & implementation)
* Tree Initiative (coordinated by Deb Hart, Zoran Djordjevic, and others)
* Neighborhood Mapping
* And more...

The summit will be short, sweet, and productive. We look forward to meeting you there.

Questions? Contact info@ourhighland.org.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Laying the final leg of the triangle—Concerned Abutters and Neighbors

As UniversalHub alerted us, Rodney Singleton has published in the Highland Park Community Association Google Group the first concerted sally by "concerned abutters and neighbors" against Bridge Boston's attempt to establish its nascent K1-8 school on the grounds of the Sisters of Saint Margaret's convent.  As it turns out our two previous posts duplicate Mr. Singleton's posts of the same material.

Running to just over three pages, with about 1350 words and one picture, the Concerned Abutters and Neighbors respond to the Q&As from the sisters and from the school with their own Q&A, in only three concerns posed as questions and three sets of related guiding principles posed as answers.  What follows is our 400-word summary.

  • "What do we view as fundamental for any potential owner of St. Margaret’s Convent to expedite a mutually-amenable sale?"

    There are three principles: 

    First, the maintaining of "the current level of tranquility" that was part of the quid pro quo of the neighbors' agreement twenty years ago to the sisters' expansion and transition of St. Monica’s Nursing Home to the convent.

    Second, the Bridge Boston School does not provide a "'community-valued' contribution" to the neighborhood. It is holding a city-wide lottery on 8 March 2011; it will not be a neighborhood school.

    Third, the "purchaser must maintain a residential setting that respects the historical character of the neighborhood," not adversely impacting the historic Garrison House or the Olmsted-designed park at the High Fort.

  • "What do we believe to be the negative consequences of having the Bridge Boston Charter School housed at the Convent site?"

    As might be expected, the results of siting Bridge Boston School at the convent are a veritable yard sale of badness. (This is not surprising: see the fusillade of objections that formed the genesis of this blog, directed at Daryl Settles's proposed business venture at 85 Centre Street.)

    The Abutters and Neighbors claim ten current schools for the environs of Highland Park, though only three of them are sited within its boundaries (the Paige Academy and BPS's Hale and Timilty).

    The Nathan Hale school and the Timilty school already burden the neighborhood with much congestion from the many buses that serve their students.

    Adding bus trips will exacerbate the traffic congestion. Limited parking on the site will force spill-over parking to nearby streets. The site's frontage on Highland Street is ill-suited to accommodating the many bus trips the school will need.

    The precipitous ledge occupying much of the site is unsafe for children. The school administrators will necessarily want them to play at, and thus ruin, the Olmsted-designed park at the High Fort.

  • "What would we like to see happen to St. Margaret’s Convent?"
    Given "the central role the convent plays in the character of the neighborhood – the Society of St. Margaret has an obligation to include the neighborhood in its plans." To the contrary, the convent has completely ignored a proposal sent to it on 8 February for a Highland Park Resident Board of Transitional Oversight.

    The neighbors would rather see a library or research center, mixed-use condominiums, an independent- or assisted living-facility, a museum of African-America art, or an extension of the Museum of Fine Arts.

Bridge Boston Charter School—An Introduction and an Invitation

This undated document is the second of a match pair of Q&As.  The first of the set appears in our immediately preceding post.




How many students will attend the school?

If chartered, Bridge Boston will enroll 72 young children in grades K1 and K in September of 2011. Each year we expand by a grade level, eventually reaching a total enrollment of 335 students in K1 through Grade 8.

Where will school buses drop students off?

We feel that the best place for drop off and pick up is on Highland Street. For students with physical disabilities, special buses will transport them to the front of the building.

Where will students play outside?

We intend to have children play in the existing open area on the property near Highland Street, between Cedar Street and Fort Avenue. As Bridge grows larger, we hope to be able to able to use playgrounds/parks in the neighborhood for appropriate play at permissible times.

What will the hours of operation be?

The school day would begin at 7:30 am for breakfast and end at 3:30 pm. Bridge will offer extended day (after-school) programming that would conclude no later than 6 pm.

Where will teachers and staff park?

Faculty and staff will utilize the parking spaces (20) currently on the property.  Bridge will seek additional rental parking in close proximity to the property as well. We anticipate that, at least for the first several years,  A number of teachers will live on the property and that this will reduce traffic flow. Bridge Boston does not intend to park in the neighborhood street spaces.
How many cars do you expect?

In the first few years, we do not envision that the cars on the property will exceed the current number of parking spaces (20). We will seek community input and approval to identify nearby lots that Bridge Boston can utilize in the coming years.

How will you continue to work with the community?

Bridge Boston enthusiastically intends to work with the community in many ways. Initially, we seek to meet with abutters, neighborhood residents, and neighborhood associations to profile and discuss our school programming and logistics in depth. We will reach out to the community to create awareness of our school and to generate excitement and applications to our admissions lottery. This lottery, if Bridge Boston is chartered, will take place on March 8, 2011. We also want Bridge Boston to be an enhancement to and a resource for the community and for Bridge Boston to be enhanced by being a part of this community. Bridge will be very receptive to having neighborhood groups use the school, including the neighborhood associations.

Have you made an offer on the Highland Street property?

Yes, Bridge Boston has made an offer on the property and it has been accepted. The acquisition is contingent on Bridge being granted a charter from the Commonwealth.

Are you definitely moving to that location?

Bridge Boston hopes to make the location its permanent home. In addition to the contingency of being granted a charter, Bridge has standard contingencies that must be met, including an environmental review and financing commitment. We also need to be granted zoning approval by the City of Boston to operate Bridge Boston on the property and be granted certificates of occupancy.

Will there be construction?

Yes, but we do not anticipate any major construction if we are chartered, in order to be ready for a September 2011 opening. In the longer term, Bridge seeks to make the overall retrofit of the buildings, from a convent to a school, as minimally disruptive as possible to the community and the school.

What needs to happen to make that work?

We are making plans for environmental review and financing efforts. The most critical effort is to genuinely and thoroughly reach out to the community and to earn their support. We know what we need to do in order to obtain zoning approval and to open in September and that a key determinant to that goal is creating a positive and trusting relationship with our neighbors and the community.
What is Bridge Boston Charter School?

We are a proposed public charter school. We will learn on February 28, 2011 whether we are chartered to open in September 2011, initially with 72 students in K1 and K, eventually growing to 335 students in K1-Grade 8.

What will Bridge Boston be like, if chartered?

Bridge Boston Charter School students will thrive in a challenging, joyful, inclusive K1-8 public school community that values close partnerships with families and a focus on the whole child.  Our students will develop the skills necessary to excel academically in rigorous high school, reach their individual potentials, and view themselves as creators of their own futures.  Through full-service programming, Bridge Boston Charter School will work to remove the health and social obstacles that hinder student learning.   We will provide expanded learning time and after-school extended day programs; a curriculum which includes art, music, and physical education; instruction to meet each student's individual needs; small classes averaging 18 children; and an intern program including college graduates working under the direction of highly experienced teachers to allow smaller classes and more individual attention.  Our founding group has strong community ties and proven experience with excellent schools, including Epiphany School in Dorchester.

Why do we want to have our schoolhouse at 17 Highland Park?

We love this site and this neighborhood. We have founding board members who live on Elmore Street in Roxbury, have taught at Roxbury Community College, and have worked at nearby schools. These beautiful and gracious buildings have a legacy of service to Boston residents, which we seek to maintain, including the original home of William Lloyd Garrison, a leader of the abolition movement in the mid-1800s and the later legacy as a home for African American senior citizens and most recently a home for the Sisters of the Society of St. Margaret. 

What will happen to the Garrison House?
Bridge Boston intends to carefully maintain the Garrison House and use it for faculty housing and offices.

How would our school utilize the buildings and protect the neighborhoods character?

Bridge Boston would begin with 72 students, and would then expand by a grade each year. We do not envision needing to change the exterior of the buildings in any substantial way. Any and all improvements to the property will be aesthetically tasteful and appropriate. We will only seek to ensure the safety and smooth operation of the school. We will utilize the buildings for school programming and some housing for faculty/administrators.

How can you get more information about the school?

Please refer to our website, www.bridgebostoncharterschool.org, or contact Bridge  Boston Board members Peter Keating at petekeats@aol.com or Makeeba McCreary at  makeeba.mccreary@gmail.com 

Could your child attend Bridge Boston?

We would love to serve your child and your family.  If we are chartered, we will hold a public lottery on March 8, 2011. We will only be enrolling students who will enter K1 and K next September (students who will be 4 and 5). The school will enroll a K1 class every year as it grows to its full capacity of 335 students in grades K1-8.  Please go to our website or contact our Acting Executive Director to fill out an ‘Intent to Enroll’ form to enter your child in our lottery.  Our school is free, supervised by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, and is open to all students.  Free buses will be provided by the Boston Public Schools.

How can you get more information about the plans for the site?

We hope to attend the Fort Hill Civic Association meetings at the Society of St. Margaret Convent to talk about our plans and would be honored to attend future meetings of additional community organizations to provide updates.  We enthusiastically look forward to meeting you and working together to maintain your beautiful neighborhood and to serve Boston students and their families.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Q & A Document from the Sisters of St. Margaret

The following document was circulated to a neighborhood mailing list on 18 February.  We hesitated to republish it as is, because it is not our document and we are adding nothing to it.  However, it appears nowhere on the convent website and it is clearly of interest to those who do not subscribe to the neighborhood lists.

A similar document from the Bridge Boston Charter School was circulated the same day. It also does not appear on the school's website. We intend to republish that tomorrow.

Q & A Document from the Sisters of St. Margaret -
February 10, 2011

Although we will miss our neighbors, our current building at 17 Highland Park Avenue is too large for us and we cannot afford to stay here, especially at a time when we are focusing our limited resources on our mission in Haiti, whose people are suffering. 

Who is buying the property?

We do have an agreement with the Bridge Boston charter school dependent upon their charter acceptance, which is expected to be decided by the end of February.  Although the property is zoned residential, we have not marketed the property to private developers at this time.

Although we will miss our neighbors, we hope they understand that the sale of the property will allow us to focus on our mission of helping the people of Haiti, where we have had a presence since 1927.  In the recent earthquake, we lost the building that our Sisters live in. 

How will the community be affected?

While this is a wonderful community and we will miss it, we rarely have neighbors attending our services and many of the residents that were once active here have died or moved away. 

We believe Bridge Boston, if they advance as a potential buyer, would be a wonderful partner for the community.

Where are you going?

We are consolidating our convent in Duxbury, at a property our order has owned since 1903. But in many ways, our home is everyplace our mission work is happening.

What will happen to the Garrison House?

The Garrison House, attached to the convent, is part of the National Register of Historic Buildings, a designation that potential buyers will be aware of. If the owner is Bridge Boston, they intend to carefully maintain the Garrison House and use it in the immediate and long term for faculty/administrative housing.

Will you have any presence in Boston?

Yes, we are committed to our mission in Boston which includes involvement in the B-Safe Summer Program and the Generations Incorporated afterschool tutoring program at St. Stephen’s Church.  We also work with an arts program at St. Martins and St. Augustine’s in addition to our Chaplin work at the Suffolk County House of Corrections.  Several of our sisters will continue to live in Boston at a small residence in order to complete their work.

Where is the Fort Hill Civic Association going to meet?

We have welcomed the Fort Hill Civic Association here for many years and appreciate the work they do in the community. Bridge Boston has indicated that they would love to continue to have the Fort Hill Civic Association meet at the property.

What if the deal with Bridge Boston doesn’t go through?

We would pursue other select like-minded institutions in the event that this deal does not happen.

When can we talk to Bridge Boston more about their plans?

They plan on having many community meetings.

Is this contingent upon them getting a charter or ZBA approvals?


For more information contact:

 Sr. Adele Marie or Sr. Carolyn

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The nuns to decamp from Roxbury to Duxbury

It was late January when we first learned that the Sisters of St. Margaret were selling their property to the Bridge Boston Charter School.

Then, representatives of the sisters and of the charter school attended the 8 February meeting of the Fort Hill Civic Association.

Concerns of neighbors were recorded in the minutes of the FHCA meeting.  Those concerns were traffic, lost privacy and potential for property damage for abutters, increased noise, decreased property value of the neighborhood, and unknown changes to the identity of the community.

A Boston Globe article from 13 February also announced the news and gave some history on the sisters, described their long involvement in Haiti, and recounted the reasons for their move from Fort Hill to Duxbury.  The sale is apparently dependent on the Bridge School receiving its charter and on approval from the Zoning Board of Appeal.

The Boston Globe reported three days ago that "Massachusetts education commissioner Mitchell Chester today endorsed 17 out 23 applications to launch new charter schools," among which is the Bridge Charter School.  The full Board of Elementary and Secondary Education is scheduled to vote on Commissioner Chester's recommendation at its meeting on 28 February.  Commissioner Chester recommended nine other Boston charter schools in addition to Bridge Charter School.

Here is a letter of 23 January from Sister Superior Carolyn and Sister Assistant Superior Adele Marie prepared for the SSM web site in which they announce the sale of the convent and the society's move to Duxbury.

The convent website gives the street address of the convent as 17 Highland Park Street, but the City of Boston Assessing Department lists 125 Highland Street.  The assessed value of the land and buildings at #125 is $1,630,800.00, of which $511,400.00 is for the land.  The plot is large, 66,668 sq ft.  The year 2008 saw the land and buildings assessed for $2,360,900.00, but the assessed value has decreased each year since.

The convent's conference center is sited on an adjacent, 5,298 sq ft lot at 18 Cedar Park, which is assessed only for the land at $86.000.00, with a zero dollar assessment for buildings.  The owners for #125 are given as ST MARGARET SOC OF and ST MONICAS HOME, while the owner for 18 Cedar Park is SOCIETY OF ST MARGARET MASS CORP.

It is of historical note that the convent's property includes the home of William Lloyd Garrison, where he lived from 1864 to his death fifteen years later.

We will make several more posts over the next few days discussing neighborhood reaction to the announced sale.

Flikr source for the photograph of the William Lloyd Garrison House

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Boneless Cat

Four and a half months since spotting a mother cat and her three young kittens on our back porch, the three-ring kitten circus has dispersed.  (See the three immediately preceding posts, but one.)

The mother cat was quickly adopted out.

The two TNRed cats are spotted infrequently.  At the height of the recent storms, we put out food and water.  Someone else in the neighborhood is feeding, for the food wasn't devoured as we expected.

Pictures of two of the three kittens sat on the Charles River Alley Cats website until late January, when their listing disappeared.  We haven't heard back from our CRAC helpers in time of need, but we presume the kittens got better socialization than we could provide and were successfully adopted.

The remaining kitten now has the form and gait of a mature cat, retaining the lunatic playfulness of a kitten.  Boneless cat used to be just words to us, but this kitten sleeps upside down, four legs akimbo, belly exposed, utterly secure of her place in the world.  It is gratifying to have made our small contribution to her charming character.  It was a privilege to have provided aid to six neighborhood cats, helping to find home for four of them.

The original resident cat is still grumpy about the interloper, but she deigned to play briefly with the kitten last week.  The two of them, just now, are content to sit on the same hot radiator, dozing and peering out the window.

65 voters at 5 pm at Ward 11 Precinct 01

Today is the preliminary election for a replacement city councillor for district seven.

65 votes were registered on the counting machine at the Roxbury Community College voting location for ward 11 precinct 1. 

We saw signs for Jackson, Williams, Carithers, and Mills, but no campaign workers.  With six precinct workers, it seems an expensive way to run an election.

Today is the special preliminary municipal election; the polls close at 8 pm.  The general election ("special municipal election") is 15 March.

Here is the Boston Election Department website with information for the district seven special elections and for the municipal elections in the fall.