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Boston Arts Academy students, parents renew push for renovations

Posted by Johanna Kaiser  March 25, 2013 04:43 PM

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After several delays and setbacks, Boston Arts Academy students and their parents are pressing city officials to recommit to renovating the school’s building.

On Monday, the Boston Arts Academy Family Council and BAA students planned to deliver a petition with more than 800 signatures to Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino, schools Superintendent Carol R. Johnson, and the city's chief of public properties Michael Galvin, asking that they make renovating the only public arts school in Boston a priority.

Since it was founded in 1998, the school has operated in the former post office warehouse on Ipswich Street near Fenway Park, a building it currently shares with Fenway High School.

The space was meant to be temporary and only minimal improvements were made.

Now, fifteen years later, the space continues to prove too small, and unfit for the arts school.

Students have no auditorium or performance spaces to put on theater productions and crowded conditions make practicing dance moves difficult.

Classes are often held in closets and hallways, and visual arts students are using a converted kiln room as a classroom where students take turns sitting.

About 90 percent of the school’s arts spaces and 93 percent of the core academic classrooms do not meet the minimum requirements laid out by Massachusetts State Building Authority.

Most classrooms do not have windows or natural light and science labs do not meet minimum safety requirements.

“In sum, our ability to meet the needs of our student body and fulfill our mission is dramatically impeded by our space constraints and lack of appropriate facilities. It is imperative that we move forward in finding a permanent solution and funding to renovate the 174 Ipswich St. facility,” the family council said in a statement.

The academy will have more space once Fenway High School moves into a renovated Mission Hill K-8 School, but the building would still need renovations.

The council and students want the school department to advocate for the Boston Arts Academy to receive Massachusetts School Building Authority funding to start core renovations by fall 2014.

The school community agreed to renovations instead of a move in 2012 when Boston Public Schools submitted a Statement of Interest to the MSBA, but the authority rejected the request for funding because it believed the school district has not made the renovations a priority.

“They must commit the resources to ensure Massachusetts School Building Authority approval of this project and its promised implementation timeline beginning no later than fall of 2014,” the online petition that is still garnering signatures reads. “If Boston truly values its only dual curriculum performing arts high school than it's time to prove it.”

Boston Public School spokesman Lee McGuire said the school department has been working with the school's staff and families to resubmit a better funding request application to the school building authority.

The building's renovation is a top priority, he said.

"We agree. This is a wonderful school with an excellent program and we want to help it get even better," McGuire said in a phone interview.

The new funding request must be approved by the school committee and city council before it is resubmitted to the authority.

McGuire said the proposal could be presented at a school committee meeting in early April, but could not yet offer a timeframe for the renovations if the state approves the request.

Before the renovation effort began, the school had assessed more than 45 potential sites for the school and considered new buildings in the Theatre District or on Roxbury Community College’s campus.

Superintendent Johnson previously proposed moving Boston Arts Academy into Boston Latin Academy's building in Dorchester, but the plan to move Latin Academy to Hyde Park was scrapped after protests.

The BAA Family Council and students plan to deliver the petition to the Boston school committee at its Wednesday meeting.

E-mail Kaiser at Johanna.yourtown@gmail.com. For more news about your city, town, neighborhood, or campus, visit boston.com’s Your Town homepage.

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