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Future uncertain for Timilty school building

Olivia Grant
Future uncertain for Timilty school building
An empty hallway in the Timilty school. PHOTO: OLIVIA GRANT

Residents and community members in Boston’s predominantly Black Roxbury neighborhood are demanding answers regarding the school system’s long-term plan for the newly shuttered James P. Timilty Middle School building, calling the lack of communication frustrating.

An historic photo of the Timilty School from the City of Boston Archive.

The school, which was built in 1937 and won the National Blue Ribbon School awards in 1989 and 1994, had a storied history of helping its mostly African American and Hispanic students from disadvantaged backgrounds excel academically.

Boston Public Schools closed three middle schools in June, citing a decline in enrollment and a districtwide plan to revise grade configurations to eliminate the number of school transitions for students. Two of the schools, the Washington Irving Middle School in Roslindale and the Jackson/Mann K-8 School in Allston, both in predominantly white neighborhoods, have long-term plans consisting of multi-million-dollar construction and renovations.

The Timilty’s future remains murky. In the meantime, the city of Boston officially announced that they will use the building to house temporary work environments during district-wide renovations.

“No reconfiguration of the building has been previously announced,” Mayor Michelle Wu’s office wrote on July 25. “We’ll dedicate $3 million in FY23 to upgrade the building facilities to facilitate a reconfiguration to an elementary school, which will then be used as swing space for the entire district to facilitate future renovations and new builds.”

Some residents were confused and disappointed by the news.

Karyn Krystock, 53, said she felt the city wasn’t prioritizing the neighborhood’s needs and wanted to know what happened to the current students.

“It’s BS!” she said.

The district-wide renovations and new constructions are all part of Wu’s $2 billion Green New Deal for BPS. The plan aims to update school buildings to make them safer and energy-efficient. The Jackson/Mann K-8 school is slated for a new design and construction of a PreK-6 school with a Boston Center for Youth and Families (BCYF) Community Center. The adjacent Horace Mann School for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing will temporarily relocate to the Edwards building in Charlestown. The Washington Irving Middle School in Roslindale has a $5.2 million budget to upgrade the building to create a new PreK-6 neighborhood school.

BPS didn’t clarify why it has no solidified plans for the Timilty building. Gabrielle Farrell, BPS’ chief communications officer, said in an email, “As part of our long-term capital planning process, we are continuing to evaluate the ongoing use of the facility.”

BPS did not respond to residents’ concerns about feeling overlooked and their frustrations with the lack of communication with the community.

While BPS stated it is still evaluating long-term use for the space, the city said the building will be reconfigured to an elementary school under the Green New Deal plan. Neighbors said they are frustrated by the contradictory statements coming from the city and the school district.

Community members say they hope the city takes their concerns into consideration. They want the building used in a way that serves the residents of Roxbury. 

An example of such a service is the Boston Day and Evening Academy, an in-district public charter school. The BDEA has two campuses in Roxbury, one at 20 Kearsarge Ave. and the other in a portion of the Timilty building. BDEA helps “off-track” BPS students obtain diplomas and post-graduate opportunities. The school has special programming for Black and brown men, called BDEA 2.0, which serves a demographic that’s widely represented in Roxbury.

The extra space in the building that currently houses BDEA was available because of declining enrollment at the Timilty, according to Jill Kantrowitz, BDEA’s director of institutional advancement.

Adrianne Level, BDEA 2.0 program leader, said the district sent teachers and administrators an email in May saying BDEA could stay in the Timilty building another year. The school celebrated its third year in the building, coexisting alongside Timilty middle-schoolers.

Level said that while she appreciates having the building for another year, parents, students and teachers are anxious about what will happen after the year is up. The communication between BPS and its teachers, school administrators and parents does not ease community concerns.

BDEA submitted a proposal to BPS to take over the entire Timilty building after talks to phase out middle schools began as early as 2018 under former Superintendent Tommy Chang.

Level said BPS responded that officials would reach out to residents this summer to ask them how they wanted the building to be used.

As of Aug. 3, Roxbury residents living near the school said they were not aware of any community outreach. Level is not aware of any community outreach either. She fears the proposal was lost in the shuffle of ever-changing superintendents.

“I just finished my eleventh year [working for BPS], but this is like my fourth superintendent and, you know, it’s ridiculous. The lack of consistency — it’s just so hard for our students and families.” Level has taught through six superintendents, if you count interim superintendents, in the past 11 years.

Georgetta Thompson, 47, has a 15-year-old daughter who aged out of middle school this year. Thompson is also the head site supervisor for the Summer Eats program, which served students at the BDEA Summer Camp at the Timilty. She said she only found out about the building’s immediate plans from people who worked at BDEA. She was curious as a BPS employee and parent as to why she didn’t hear anything from BPS directly.

Thompson suggested BPS could turn buildings into community centers with after-school programs and tutoring for children.

“In the heart of Roxbury, we need this school here,” she said. “We had a big pandemic that happened, and we’re just now getting these kids back on the ball.”

Green New Deal for BPS, roxbury, Timilty Middle School Building