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Mayor Michelle Wu on Thursday announced her administration’s first steps toward overhauling the aging and outdated facilities of Boston Public Schools through a $2 billion “Green New Deal” plan that she said would propel renovations and new construction at a rate previously unseen.
Wu and school leaders said the sweeping vision, driven by enhanced collaboration between Boston City Hall and district officials, is necessary to address crumbling infrastructure after decades of underfunding and little action.
Specifically, Wu is seeking to “kickstart” the initiative through a $605 million investment, which is outlined in the four-year capital plan now before the City Council.
“I would like us to have fully re-done every school building in Boston in the next decade,” Wu told reporters outside the McKinley schools on Thursday.
The proposed budget bundle will cover 14 new construction “or major renovation projects” — ranging from energy and water efficiency improvements and solar panel installations to school yard refurbishments and water fountains — as well as upgrades to White Stadium in Franklin Park, according to Wu’s office.
The cash would also provide for a programming study at the McKinley Elementary School and McKinley South End Academy to assess school needs and outline a vision for improvements, officials said.
Additionally, city officials launched an online dashboard on Thursday that provides real-time insight into conditions of district buildings, outlining the status of everything from boilers to elevators to security systems.
The dashboard assigns each facility a “Building Needs Score” which officials said will be used to help prioritize projects moving forward.
Dion Irish, the city’s chief of operations, told reporters on Wednesday the dashboard will be updated as more information becomes available, thereby serving as a “living document.”
Asked if he believes the dashboard’s data could spark a flurry of school transfers from families wanting to seek out the district’s better quality facilities, Irish said he thinks the information will confirm what many already know.
“I think we’ll draw folks’ attention to just understanding what the plan is … where are we in terms of addressing these issues that we’re seeing in this dashboard?” he said.
The city will also launch a “Facilities Condition Assessment” to independently validate the data on the dashboard and take sock of the conditions of each building, with the full study to be completed within the next two years. A separate “School Design Study” will seek to “create programming and design guidelines for safe, sustainable, and inspiring school facilities,” according to Wu’s office.
“This study is intended to accelerate the programming and design phases of future projects, enabling the City of Boston to take on school facilities upgrades at an unprecedented pace,” the Wu Administration said in a statement. “It will be complete in 12 to 18 months from when the project kicks off this summer.”
Wu’s Green New Deal for BPS would help satisfy a campaign promise to bring equitable job opportunities while also retooling Boston’s public infrastructure to lower carbon emissions and make city-owned property more climate resilient.
BPS facilities make up almost half of all emissions from city-owned buildings, Wu said.
The mayor’s 2023 fiscal year budget proposal seeks to create 25 new staff positions to manage school construction and renovation projects.
Wu’s overall proposal would, for the first time in decades, be the largest revamp of the city’s school facilities, the vast majority of which were built before 1950.
Jeri Robinson, chair of the Boston School Committee and a 1959 Boston schools graduate, said she attended one school built in 1909 that remains in use. She drew a contrast between the conditions of the city’s schools and the sleek and glitzy development that has taken Boston by storm over the past decade.
“Look around the city. Go to the Seaport,” Robinson said. “We are building gorgeous buildings for people who spend four or five hours, eight hours a day here, but we have kids who live their lives here in this community.”
Wu said the school improvements now in play “are long overdue — decades overdue in many cases.”
“We’re obviously seeing the consequence of deferred maintenance,” she said.
The physical limits of many schools were particularly put to the test during the COVID-19 pandemic, as the district struggled to develop methods to better ventilate classrooms.
As Wu noted, many schools lack quality, modern HVAC systems. Many teachers raised concerns that the approach of handing out fans and directions to leave windows open to help lower potential virus spread just didn’t cut it.
Last summer, teachers and students also said classroom temperatures reached as high as 93 degrees since many buildings lacked air conditioning.
Superintendent Brenda Cassellius said Thursday the district has already started correcting some outstanding problems, such as covering radiators so “children do not get burned any longer.”
“We fixed 12,000 windows,” Cassellius said. “We have air conditioning going in this summer. Our auditoriums are getting upgraded. Lighting and painting is getting done so that our teachers don’t have it falling on their heads and our kids.”
Jessica Tang, president of the Boston Teachers Union, touted Wu’s plan for focusing on major upgrades but also the relatively smaller fixes that she said make a big difference on the experience of students, teachers, and staff.
“When students walk into schools and the temperature is too warm, it does impact our ability to focus and learn,” Tang said “… Go into schools and there’s no green space and outdoor classrooms or gardens — you know, is it essential? Maybe not, but does it make a difference for the students who are going to school every day? Absolutely.”
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