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School officials describe BuildBPS planning process

Karen Morales | 11/1/2017, 12:13 p.m.
In 2015, Mayor Martin Walsh unveiled a 10-year $1 billion master plan for Boston Public Schools, BuildBPS, that his administration ...
Turahn Dorsey, John Hanlon and Tommy Welch speak to parents during a BPS open house. Banner photo

In 2015, Mayor Martin Walsh unveiled a 10-year $1 billion master plan for Boston Public Schools, BuildBPS, that his administration says will transform schools into more innovative, modern and exemplary learning models. Last weekend, BPS held a fall open house to showcase updated data, research and community input they have compiled over the last two years.

BuildBPS is led by the City of Boston, the Boston School Committee, and the Boston Public Schools. Symmes Maini & McKee Associates (SMMA) serves as the lead planning and design firm, and Pinck & Co. serves as the project manager.

BPS Operations Chief John Hanlon presented this information at a public meeting during the open house in the Bruce C. Bolling Building, with BPS Superintendent Tommy Chang and City of Boston Education Chief Turahn Dorsey also present.

The $1 billion initiative will be financed with $730 million dollars from the city’s bond capital and $270 million invested by the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA), according to Hanlon.

“The mayor wants to leverage our triple bond rating and obtain a quarter of a million dollars from MSBA,” said Dorsey.

The $1 billion will go towards new construction, expansions, renovations, reconfigurations, maintenance and repairs, technology infrastructure, classroom furniture, accreditation investments and schoolyard improvements.

Hanlon said more than $28 million of the budget has been used so far, for projects like Dearborn STEM Academy, Boston Arts Academy, Another Course to College and Mattapan Early Elementary School.

Last spring, 12 neighborhood workshops were held with a total of 450 people in attendance. At these workshops, 451 investment ideas were put forth by the public.

“It’s important for us, as a school district, to hear from people, the real stakeholders,” said Hanlon. After an attendee at last week’s meeting pointed out that 450 people might not be a fair representation of the entire student and parent community in Boston, Chang said that the team is working on having ongoing platforms for suggestions to be submitted by the public.

“We’re learning how to test ideas. This process is new for BPS,” added Dorsey. “We’re trying to find the right modality to reach everyone because there are barriers everywhere to each mode of communication.”

From the neighborhood workshops, the BuildBPS team learned that the majority of people cared about access to high quality schools in their neighborhoods, clear educational pathways from pre-kindergarten to graduation, fewer transitions between schools, modernizing buildings with technology, improving physical condition of buildings and increasing accessibility for students with disabilities.

Hanlon said that these ideas are now currently being reviewed by city and BPS officials with finances, equity, and the principles of the BuildBPS master plan in mind.

In November, a recap of themes brought up in the community meetings will be released, and stakeholders will meet in December. In January 2018, the next round of community engagement starts up again.

As shown in the BuildBPS Master Plan, the project’s team visited all of the Boston Public Schools’ buildings and rated each one based on four categories: building; site; learning environment effectiveness; and learning space effectiveness.