Passions flare at Dudley Vision meeting

Sandra Larson | 8/1/2012, 8:12 a.m.
Carleton Jones, executive director of capital and facilities management for the Boston Public Schools, speaks to the Dudley Vision Advisory Task Force and community members on July 26 about use of space in the new School Department headquarters now under construction in Dudley Square. Sandra Larson

BPS spokesperson says “no” to Skylab

A Boston Public Schools (BPS) representative told the Dudley Vision Advisory Task Force last Thursday that a proposed Skylab in the new BPS headquarters under construction in Dudley Square likely won’t materialize.

The July 26 task force meeting, attended by about 30 community members, was billed as a project overview and update on plans for the new municipal building, expected to open in 2014. But it turned into an impassioned discussion of what the Roxbury community needs and the high hopes harbored by some for the “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity the $115 million project presents.

At issue was whether non-BPS entities such as local nonprofit groups could bid for extended occupancy of a sixth-floor space in the new building.

The 1,900-square-foot area on the sixth floor, labeled as “shared” or “public” in recent design documents, will open onto a roof garden atop the old Ferdinand’s Furniture building. The roof offers a rare bird’s-eye view of Roxbury and the downtown Boston skyline.

At a June task force meeting, community members Kai Grant and Bridgette Wallace had outlined their vision for that space: a technology training and education center they call “Dudley Vision Skylab.” After their presentation, questions arose about whether any single entity would be allowed to lease the space. If long-term occupancy is to be allowed, some argued, an open bidding process should be initiated so that other interested groups could present their proposals.

Carleton Jones, executive director of capital and facilities management for BPS, had a clear answer on Thursday.

“The space will be treated no differently than at the other [BPS] facilities,” Jones announced. As with any school auditorium or gymnasium or cafeteria, there is a procedure involving permits, he said, and usually fees for after-hours use, and that’s how people or groups would gain access to public spaces in the new BPS headquarters.

No group will be allowed to secure a space for longer than the duration of a single meeting or event.

Jones also said it was not known what type of public access will be possible for the roof deck, as the sixth floor will hold BPS staff workspaces and offices as well. “It’s conceivable there will be enough separation to allow access,” he said, and “perhaps” it would be available after hours for occasional events.

As it became clear the answer was a flat “no” for Skylab or any other entity wanting to lease this particular space, community members and some task force members voiced surprise and disappointment.

“Based on the past few months of meetings, a lot of us felt there was an opportunity here,” said task force member Charlotte Nelson after Jones’s brief presentation. “A destination, a hub of activity that the community could enjoy. Now it sounds like that might not be possible.”

Although the new building’s ground-floor retail spaces should add economic activity to Dudley Square, community members are clearly yearning for non-commercial benefits, too.

“I thought you would come back with a process that would enable things to happen in this space, that would allow community groups to use the space—and not just for single events,” said Albert Willis, a technology consultant and Dorchester resident who has been following the evolution of the Skylab idea. “The stuff we need to do to move this community forward cannot be done on an event basis.