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Governor Patrick tours new North Bennet Street School location

Posted by Jeremy C. Fox  July 25, 2013 04:42 PM

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Jeremy C. Fox for Boston.com

Miguel Gómez-Ibáñez, president of the North Bennet Street School (at right), described the layout of the school’s new building to state Secretary of Education Matthew Malone and Governor Deval Patrick.

Governor Deval Patrick got a firsthand look Thursday morning at the new home of a venerable North End trade school.

Leaders of the North Bennet Street School — a 132-year-old institution offering training in traditional skills such as cabinet-making, locksmithing, and bookbinding — gave the governor and other state officials a preview of its new home in two adjoining North Street buildings.

Patrick said he was drawn to the site for both personal and policy reasons.

“I have a friend on the board of directors who has been very enthusiastic” about the school’s new home, Patrick said, “and the secretary of education is a great believer and leader in our workforce development strategy.”

Through a deal with the City of Boston struck last year, the trade school gave up its former home at North Bennet and Tileston streets — appraised at $6.7 million — as expansion space for the popular but overcrowded John Eliot K-8 School.

The trade school paid an additional $4.6 million for two then-vacant North Street buildings, the city’s former printing plant and Area A-1 Police Station.

The school received $500,000 in grants through the Massachusetts Cultural Council’s Cultural Facilities Fund to support the purchase and renovation of the North Street buildings, and $2 million in historic preservation tax credits from the Commonwealth, according to the governor’s office.

Miguel Gómez-Ibáñez, the school’s president and a graduate of its cabinet- and furniture-making program, said it has already begun moving heavy equipment, such as woodworking machines, into the new space and will relocate the rest in late August, opening for fall classes on Sept. 9.

Gómez-Ibáñez said the school raised $17 million over 18 months to make the move and renovation possible. The project cost $28 million, he said, including the cost of the building and land, with just under $14 million for construction costs.

“It’s really been remarkable to be able to design, draw, and build a school in 16 months and raise the money at the same time to pay for it,” Gómez-Ibáñez said in an interview. “Every step of the way, you have to proceed trusting that the next thing will happen as well.”

Gómez-Ibáñez said the new space totals 65,000 square feet, a big jump from the 35,000 square feet the school occupied on its original North End site, which had to be supplemented with rented space in Arlington.

Matthew Malone, the state secretary of education, said in an interview that he graduated from a vocational high school and worked as an ironworker during summers while he was a schoolteacher and later a principal. Malone has great faith, he said, in the ability of manual training to build confidence as well as practical skills.

“Actually going out and being able to work with your hands, I think makes you a better person, more productive,” Malone said.

Malone said he supported a collaboration between the North Bennet Street School and the Eliot School that teaches students woodworking skills and that he would like to see manual education offerings expanded in public schools.

“I think it’s important that we push down into the earlier grades the ability and the skills that come with hands-on experiential application of the core curriculum,” Malone said. “We can really turn young people on by engaging them with hands-on activities.”

Gómez-Ibáñez told the governor that the average North Bennet Street student is about 30 and is changing careers, but anyone with a high school diploma or a GED who can demonstrate a likelihood of success in his or her chosen program may enroll.

The school has small classes and only a 5 percent dropout rate, Gómez-Ibáñez said.

“We are not turning out huge numbers, but we are turning out people who will then lead the field in their particular trade,” he said.

Architect J. Frano Violich said combining the buildings to create the new school space was a challenge, but he felt fortunate to work on the project.

“It’s been an unlikely marriage of a printing plant and a jail,” Violich told the governor.

In an interview, Violich said it had been important to understand the attributes of both buildings and to repurpose them “in a responsible way … into something that’s right, that provides a certain energy to the neighborhood.”

The biggest challenge, Violich said, was creating a new space to connect the buildings, which were built with floors aligned at different heights. To address the gaps, he added a connector section with an elevator that will stop at each level in both halves of the building, Violich said.

He said the connector space is left open to serve as a multipurpose area that might host a lecture one night, a formal dinner the next, and then serve as a casual social space on a third night.

The governor praised the work of school leaders and the renovation team.

“It’s a great institution … and after a lot of years in multiple locations, to be under one roof, it’s a great thing,” Patrick said.

Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com.
Follow him on Twitter: @jeremycfox.
Follow the North End on Twitter: @YourNorthEnd.

Malone and Wilder.jpg

Jeremy C. Fox for Boston.com

Massachusetts Secretary of Education Matthew Malone and Matthew Wilder, director of communications for his office, paused in a woodworking shop where tools had been set up.

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