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New Latin Academy site is panned

Parents, students skeptical after tour

By Jeremy C. Fox
Globe Correspondent / October 1, 2011

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They came armed with tape measures, blueprints, and a dose of skepticism. After touring the Hyde Park building the city has proposed as the new home for Boston Latin Academy, a group of parents, students, and teachers seemed only more convinced the facility is inadequate.

“It just seems that when you look at the facts - the hard, cold, square-footage facts, you have to concede that it won’t fit,’’ said Marla Smith, 44, whose daughter is a sophomore at Latin Academy.

Smith was one of dozens from the Latin Academy community who visited the shuttered Hyde Park High School Thursday night for an informal tour.

Some conceded the building was in marginally better condition than Latin Academy’s current facility on Townsend Street near the Dorchester-Roxbury line. But others cited cracked front stairs, broken windows, and other damage at the Hyde Park facility, saying that if the point of the proposed move is improving conditions, this is not the place.

A teacher from Latin Academy, who asked not to be identified, conjured up the Greek myth of Procrustes, who would invite travelers to sleep in his iron bed and then stretch out the short people and cut off the extremities of the tall so they fit perfectly.

“I feel like we’re being shoehorned into a space that is too small for us,’’ the teacher said.

In July, the School Department announced plans to relocate Latin Academy to Hyde Park and move the Boston Arts Academy from the building it shares with Fenway High School into Latin Academy’s current space.

Superintendent Carol R. Johnson has said the plan grew out of the Arts Academy’s need to expand but also out of concerns that its aging building was in need of many repairs and improvements.

But from the beginning, families and faculty from Latin Academy have been skeptical, and sometimes outraged, by a proposal that would move the school from an admittedly worn building near the city’s center to a smaller facility nearly 5 miles southwest, near its southern tip.

Parents examining the building cited the difficulty of fitting Latin Academy’s large classes - usually 20 to 30 students - into the Hyde Park classrooms.

Saundra Knight, a Mattapan resident and mother of a Latin Academy seventh-grader, said: “I don’t think this school’s that bad. I just don’t think it’s big enough.’’

The other issue on the minds of many parents is one central to any real estate deal: location. Parents in the city’s northernmost neighborhoods dread sending their children on a longer daily commute that would cut into their sleep and homework time.

Dmitry Smelansky said his son, a Latin Academy freshman, did a trial run of his commute from their home in Brighton to Hyde Park, taking three buses, a train, and walking 10 minutes. The trip took more than two hours, Smelansky said.

Smelansky said he would consider sending him elsewhere if the school is moved to Hyde Park. “I don’t know what to do.’’

Public schools spokesman Matthew F. Wilder said yesterday that the department has known that the Hyde Park building would need to be modified to accommodate Latin Academy. Analysis of the necessary modifications is ongoing, he said.

The superintendent will present her final proposal to the school committee Oct. 12. In the meantime, Wilder said, the department welcomes input.

“This is all part of the process that we set out on,’’ he said. “The superintendent started this process, putting that proposal out there with this very intention of hearing from parents and the community.’’

Yesterday, Boston asked the state School Building Authority to extend its deadline for filing a reuse plan for Hyde Park High and several other vacated school buildings renovated with state money. That plan was due yesterday, and Johnson requested a new deadline of Nov. 30. Matt Donovan, a school building authority spokesman, said the agency is likely to grant it.

James Vaznis of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Contact Jeremy C. Fox at jeremycfox@gmail.com


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