(Jeremy C. Fox for Boston.com)
As students across Boston return to school this week, work is ongoing inside the School Department to resolve space needs at the North End’s John Eliot K-8 School.
Superintendent Carol R. Johnson addressed the issue in a recent interview, where she acknowledged that the popular school has run out of room in its current location on Charter Street.
“The Eliot is a great school,” she said. “They’re doing a great job. Families want to go there, but we are out of space.”
North End parents began calling on the city to expand the school with a petition drive last spring. Many residents from other parts of the city have supported the campaign, among them parents from Beacon Hill and the West End, two nearby neighborhoods that lack public elementary schools and could benefit from more seats in the Eliot School.
The North Bennet Street School, a 125-year-old trade school near the Eliot, hopes to relocate to the city’s vacant printing plant and an adjacent office building on North Street and has offered to either sell its building to the city for expansion of the Eliot School or to make a straight trade of the properties.
Many neighborhood parents supported that plan, and in May the North End/Waterfront Residents’ Association issued a open letter to Mayor Thomas M. Menino declaring its support.
But any progress on that front appears to be stalled until the city’s Property and Construction Management Department issues a request for proposals on the North Street buildings, which has been delayed for months by legal issues.
Johnson said the Eliot’s space issue requires a short-term solution and a long-term solution. For the time being, the school will use three classrooms donated by the North Bennet Street School. To find a permanent solution, Johnson said the department has been working with the mayor’s office and considering buildings the city owns in the area, including the buildings on North Street.
Johnson said that the department would have to either find a city-owned space or one it could lease whose owner would make the improvements necessary for use as a school. The department is not permitted to invest public funds in making improvements on a building the city doesn’t own, she said.
“We’re just looking for any spaces that could help,” she said, noting that some of the city’s other schools have split campuses and that the department might pursue that option for the Eliot.
“We’d like to have them all together. I mean, that’s Traci’s ideal world,” she said, referring to Traci Walker Griffith, principal of the Eliot School. “Actually, she’d like us to build a brand-new facility somewhere, but the goal would be to make sure that we have a good set of spaces for a nice K-8 program. But we’ll be working on that a lot this year, as we will be working on student assignment and school choice.”