Task force mulls ‘Skylab’ proposal for Ferdinand Bldg.

Sandra Larson | 7/3/2012, 8:12 a.m.
Sandra Larson Kai Grant...
local11b.jpg Sandra Larson
  Kai Grant (L) and Bridgette Wallace speak about a multi-purpose educational center they hope to locate within the new Dudley Square municipal building expected to house the Boston Public Schools department in 2014.

The Dudley Vision Advisory Task Force and about 80 community members heard details recently on the “Dudley Skylab,” a multi-use education center proposed for the top floor of the old Ferdinand’s Furniture building.

Dudley Skylab is the vision of Kai Grant and Bridgette Wallace, a pair of Boston parents and community advocates who worked on a Dudley Square “rebranding” project as participants in the Suffolk University Dr. Joseph Warren Urban Fellows Program in 2011. The two want Dudley Square to be known as the “Education District” of Boston, and they see the Ferdinand rooftop as a centerpiece of opportunity.

“The people of Roxbury deserve to be on the top floor — it’s our turn,” said Grant, who describes herself as a sixth-generation Roxbury resident, entrepreneur, and founder of a nonprofit organization to build self-esteem in teen girls. “Our kids deserve the penthouse. Our kids deserve to dream that they can be the future CEOs in Roxbury and beyond.”

The Dudley Skylab’s main purpose would be to foster science, engineering, arts and technology skills in young and older people.

“It’s very important that our community has a pipeline to 21st century jobs,” Grant said. Grant and Wallace spoke of possible partnerships with local universities, schools and cultural organizations.

The pair is working with architects Chris Johns and Jason Hart of CUBE design + research, LLC. At the meeting, the architects showed design drawings for possible use of space within the new building.

The Skylab designs show classrooms with moveable walls, a space for conferences and a “fabrication lab” for hands-on engineering and technology experimentation. Access to the roof deck and outdoor garden, Grant said, would give young people a bird’s eye view of their Roxbury neighborhood and Boston’s downtown skyline.

The sixth-floor space, which the Skylab team hopes to lease from the city at a discounted rate, has been described as “community space” in earlier public meetings on the municipal building’s design and use.

Despite an impassioned presentation and many months of legwork, the Skylab proposal is still only a proposal; it is not at all certain if or how it will move forward.

Carleton Jones, the new executive director of capital and facilities management at BPS, expressed both admiration for the team’s effort and doubts about the idea’s feasibility.

“This group has their act together, but there are questions to answer,” said Jones, who introduced the Skylab presenters at the meeting. “We have some constraints. The reality is, we can’t get [all the BPS employees] in there, and we have to figure out how much space is truly available.”

While the Skylab proposal estimates 4,000 to 7,500 square feet, Jones said the actual space, if available, would be closer to 1,500 square feet.