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Wu pledges $2 billion for school buildings

Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller is the former senior editor of the Bay State Banner. He has written for the Banner since 1988.... VIEW BIO
Wu pledges $2 billion for school buildings
Mayor Michelle Wu along with her team announces a major investment in the Boston Public School facilities during a press conference outside the McKinley Elementary School. (Mayor’s Office photo by John Wilcox)

Mayor Michelle Wu has announced a Green New Deal program to renovate existing school buildings and construct new ones, pledging $2 billion in capital expenditures.

Surrounded by Boston Public Schools and city officials, Wu said the city’s new approach to school building construction and repair — led by an inter-agency collaboration between Boston Public Schools and the city’s Operations cabinet — would be more equitable and transparent than past efforts. Wu said the city’s planning processes will bring students, families and teachers to the table, and that the city will maintain a public dashboard monitoring the maintenance needs of each of the district’s 125 buildings as well as progress on repairs.

“The Green New Deal for Boston Public Schools is a pledge to listen to and rebuild trust with our communities,” Wu said in a statement sent to news media. “This is a new, all-hands-on deck approach, with new financial resources, planning tools, and staff capacity to deliver urgent improvements to our school buildings.

Wu’s plan expands the $1 billion BuildBPS plan former Mayor Martin Walsh launched in 2015, doubling the investment.

“These improvements are long overdue, decades overdue in many cases, and we are often seeing the consequence of deferred maintenance,” Wu said. “Our young people see that every day in the feelings they have when they enter buildings, where you can see water stains on the ceiling tiles or shades that don’t work properly or windows that are a little sticky to open. And we’re seeing that that has built and reinforces mistrust between the city and the community.”

The announcement was held in front of the McKinley Elementary School in the South End, a school that serves a low-income student population, 98% of whom have disabilities. The location of the announcement underscores what Wu says is the city’s commitment to an equitable approach to school building projects.

“We are committed to rebuilding that trust by getting these projects done right in partnership with communities because of the ambitious work ahead of us,” she said.

In 2016, BPS officials informed parents and teachers at the McKinley that the district planned to demolish their 90 Warren Avenue building and construct a new building for the Josiah Quincy Upper School.

BPS officials had not yet identified a site for the relocation of the McKinley at the time of the announcement.

According to the new data dashboard, BPS has committed $175,000 in the current fiscal year for a design study for McKinley Elementary and two other McKinley School buildings to determine their needs.

The McKinley study is part of the first phase of the Green New Deal plan, which also includes 14 building projects, including renovations at Madison Park Vocational Technical High School, the Blackstone Elementary School, the Martin Luther King K-8, the Community Academy of Science and Health, a new home for the Horace Mann School, a new school at the soon-to-close Jackson/Mann campus, a new high school at the former West Roxbury Education Complex and the addition of pre-K classrooms at six schools in Roxbury and Dorchester.

“This work will touch every single BPS school building,” Wu said.

Boston’s Chief of Operations, Dion Irish, said the city plans to draw on Massachusetts School Building Authority grants, which typically cover at least half the costs of new building construction or major renovation projects.

Wu described the planning process as integral to her administration’s goals to reduce greenhouse emissions.

“Now is the time for bold, decisive action,” she said. “We must implement a Green New Deal and Boston must lead the way. To do so, we are engaged in every part of our city government and city infrastructure.”

Also joining Wu in the announcement was outgoing BPS Superintendent Brenda Cassellius, who said that when she made tour of all BPS school buildings after taking office in 2019, the poor conditions in the McKinley brought her to tears.

“This is an opportunity today to put a down payment on those promises that the city of Boston is making to our children of Boston, and they deserve nothing less,” she said.