The Boston Planning and Development Agency on Thursday greenlit Roxbury Prep’s proposal for a high school campus in Newmarket, bringing the college preparatory charter school network’s yearslong search for a unified high school site within Boston to an end.
“The path to justice is long,” said school cofounder Shradha Patel, “but our kids are going to have a home.”
Roxbury Prep has partnered with Suffolk Construction to raze several warehouses and abandoned buildings at 69-71 Proctor St., and build an approximately 83,500-square-foot facility, replete with a gym, performing arts space, and “high-tech science classrooms.” The plan also includes bike storage, rooftop solar power systems, and electric vehicle charging stations, according to a press release. The charter school, which will be able to accommodate up to 800 students, plans to open the campus as early as fall 2024.
The new campus will be also blocks away from the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard, the epicenter of Boston’s opioid crisis and a hot spot for street crime. Despite city efforts to address the problem by clearing out encampments and relocating unhoused people to transitional housing units, scores of people can still be found living in the area on any given day.
But the charter school’s leaders say they won’t let up on the safety measures that are already in place at their other Boston campuses, such as protocols at every entry point and walk-throughs by staff throughout the school day.
“[Until] end-of-day activities, kids are chaperoned, engaged, and partnered with,” Patel said. “That won’t change at this new site.”
For years, Roxbury Prep scoured the city for a place to unify its 650, primarily Black and Latino high school students, who are currently divided between its Hyde Park and Roxbury campuses. The charter school first eyed the old Clay Auto Center on Belgrade Avenue in Roslindale, igniting racially charged comments from some neighborhood residents.
At initial community meetings for the proposal, one resident said he feared a student might steal his car, two West Roxbury residents who attended the gatherings previously told the Globe. Another attendee “did not want to see 700 Black kids walk by [their] house to go to 7-Eleven,” one of the residents said.
After supporters said racism fueled these complaints, opponents brought up other issues. Some said another school would worsen traffic, the site was too small for the plan, and unprotected commuter rail tracks near the school posed a risk to students.
Roxbury Prep’s search for a unified campus also unearthed concerns about charter schools possibly draining the limited resources existing district schools have. During her mayoral campaign, then-City Councilor Michelle Wu told Commonwealth Magazine in 2020 that if the charter school built a new high school building, it might pull students away from BPS-run schools.
This lengthy battle, along with Boston’s hot real estate market, pushed Roxbury Prep to scrap the Roslindale proposal in April 2021.
But the new site has some important benefits, the charter school’s supporters say. The approved site sits in Newmarket Square, a food and meatpacking district that has also become home to nonprofits that serve Boston’s Black and Latino youth, such as The BASE. The Newmarket commuter rail station sits blocks away. And it would join other schools in the area, such as the Orchard Gardens K-8 Pilot School and Samuel W. Mason Pilot Elementary.
“At the end of the day, this is a part of keeping our promise that’s deeply grounded in justice and equity,” Patel said.
Tiana Woodard is a Report for America corps member covering Black neighborhoods. She can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @tianarochon.