(Jeremy C. Fox for Boston.com)
As the deadline arrived Thursday for proposals on two city buildings at the edge of the North End, a parents’ group took the unusual step of submitting their own proposal for using the buildings as an expansion site for an overcrowded neighborhood school.
The Eliot K-8 School Family Council has been outspoken about the issue in recent weeks, calling on the city to resolve the mounting crisis at the school through public statements and through a letter sent to Mayor Thomas M. Menino and Boston Public Schools Superintendent Carol R. Johnson. By Thursday afternoon, the council had garnered more than 860 signatures on an on-line petition.
Since 2008, the Eliot has been growing by one class each year, as it adds a second “strand” of students, so that each grade level has two classes rather than one. It will continue to add a new class each year until 2017, when the students who entered pre-kindergarten in 2008 reach eighth grade. Parents say the school is rapidly outgrowing its current building on Charter Street, with its music room, art room, and library sacrificed to make space for classrooms.
Under the council’s proposal, the school would move into the city’s former printing plant at the corner of North and Richmond streets and an adjacent North Street office building formerly used as the Boston Police Area A-1 District Station. The city issued a request for proposals on the two buildings last month.
Parents say the buildings are large enough to house its existing strands and to add a third strand, enabling the school to accept more students each year and reducing its growing waiting list.
Asked for a comment on the proposal, a BPS spokesman responded only that the school department has no authority over how city buildings are used.
In tandem with its own proposal, the family council submitted a letter of support for a proposal submitted by the North Bennet Street School, a trade school that has been in the North End for more than a century. North Bennet has offered shop classes for Eliot School students and for 2011 – 2012 cleared out three of its workshops for use as classrooms for the K-8 school.
The trade school has worked since early 2011 to build community support for its ambition of moving into the buildings, which its president, Miguel Gómez-Ibáñez, has said are the only spaces in the North End large enough to allow the school to remain in the neighborhood.
Israel Ruiz, co-chair of the family council and father to twin girls in the school’s K-1 program, said in a phone interview on Wednesday that the simultaneous actions by the council show that its members “remain open to exploring all solutions.”
Moving into the empty North Street buildings, Ruiz said, would give the school some breathing room for its current students and give more access to students from throughout the 15 neighborhoods it already serves.
Ruiz said parents had participated in a walk-through of the buildings and determined that it was a viable site for the school. The parents’ bid on the property is a symbolic $704 — one dollar for each of the children the school could serve if it had three strands, and far lower than the $11.3 million appraised value of the properties.
Ruiz said that while the parents couldn’t possibly offer the money a big developer could, their plan would amply satisfy another condition of the city’s request for proposals on the buildings — that the new use provide significant benefit to the surrounding community. He said that the current Eliot School building was assessed at $7.5 million in 2010 and could be sold, and that parents were committed to working with the city to defray costs of renovation and additional expense.
The council has received no formal response from the city, but Ruiz said parents actually think a response would be inappropriate while the RFP is still under consideration. For now, they will wait and see how the process plays out.
“We’ve been supportive of the RFP process, and we think the RFP process [has] been a helpful, milestone-driven process to accelerate the decisions,” he said. “And we certainly hope and expect that the city and the Boston Public Schools use this process … to resolve our needs and potentially the needs of expansion for the downtown neighborhoods.”
(Jeremy C. Fox for Boston.com)