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Roxbury neighbors voice opposition to BPS plans to raze Dearborn school building

Isabel Gonzalez
Roxbury neighbors voice opposition to BPS plans to raze Dearborn school building
Architect Charles W. Bradley III discusses the possibility of renovating the Dearborn School building. (Isabel Gonzalez photo) (Photo: Isabel Gonzalez)

The Boston Public Schools plan on building a new high school for the first time in a decade. But in an area that prides itself on its historical roots, residents are not to keen on the plan, which includes tearing down the former Dearborn Middle School.

The school building was constructed in 1912 when it first served as the High School for Practical Arts. The school became Girls High School until it eventually transitioned into a middle school. Located on Greenville Street, next to the Moreland Street Historic District that runs from Resurrection Lutheran Church to Waverly Street, the building is not considered part of the Historic District.

Residents are hoping to secure a historical designation for the school, circulating a petition to stop the demolition. They also plan to submit a proposal for the Dearborn to the Landmarks Commission. With the recent renovation and restoration of the Alvah Kittredge House into affordable and market-rate housing, residents hope to save the Dearborn as well.

“We’re trying to get the attention of the mayor and the governor to say that building is as important to us,” said Moreland Street resident Lorraine Wheeler.

The school department sent out fliers to inform residents of the Dearborn’s impending demolition. But residents were outraged they were not included in the decision, despite the number of homeowners in the area.

“You gave them a flyer, but you didn’t give them enough adequate information for them to make an assessment of whether they’re for it or not,” said Jason Sutton, senior pastor for the Southern Baptist Church, located near the Dearborn and the location where residents hold their meetings.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Architect Charles W. Bradley III spoke about his experience at the Dearborn two years ago when he was brought in with a group of architects to inspect the building.

“The building is significant, I think just for the neoclassical architecture that you see on the outside,” said Bradley.

The architects toured the school and were asked to develop a proposal to renovate the school and bring it up to current standards. Bradley decided not to pursue the job at the time, but feels the school still has potential based on what he saw during his visit.

“I’ve been in this profession 33 years and I’ve seen some bad buildings, and this is definitely not one of them,” he said.

With an estimated $70.7 million budget for the new school building, some residents wonder if it would be cheaper to renovate the building instead of tearing it down. But according to Bradley, this is not always the case. “What I’ve been told by estimators is that existing buildings do cost more. It does cost more to renovate than it is to build new,” said Bradley.

Bradley thinks a cost-effective renovation can be done, but this plan is not as simple as tearing the school down.

“It takes really getting the right people at the table,” said Bradley. “Whether it be contractors, architects, or engineers who can basically help specify systems like mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems that will keep costs down.”

With houses in the area that date back to the 1800s, residents are concerned with the overall look of the neighborhood if the building is torn down.

“I think this is a landscape and that all of the buildings fit together. And that is a loss to the community,” said Wheeler.

But Roxbury residents have not forgotten about students. They have researched areas in Roxbury that are owned by the city of Boston they feel would serve as a better location for a school, if the Dearborn cannot be renovated into a high school.

“There are other places that are a larger size, that would give better amenities,” said Wheeler.

“We’re interested in education, we’re interested in the building too,” said Wheeler. “But we want to have the best outcome for everyone, and were not sure that this is it at all.”

Residents plan to meet on Thursday with Carlton Jones, the Director of Facilities Management for the BPS. They also plan on attending a BPS community meeting being held on Tuesday to discuss their proposal of turning the new high school into an in-district charter school.

“History is important, our legacy is important, and homeowners in Roxbury are important too,” said Wheeler.