Boston Public Schools plans to seek funding from the Massachusetts School Building Authority for a new elementary school building in Southern Dorchester or Mattapan, the district said last week in a letter to families at the Shaw and Taylor schools.
The district plans to merge the two elementary schools as part of a district-wide building overhaul known as the Green New Deal for BPS. Beginning with the construction or major renovation of 14 or more schools, the effort is meant to address declining enrollment, deteriorating buildings, and inadequate facilities.
Many of the district’s schools, including the Shaw and the Taylor, lack gyms, auditoriums, and science labs; many also lack libraries; the Shaw has one but the Taylor does not. The currently-K-4 Shaw school is also unable to accommodate the district’s preferred K-6 configuration; it’s adding fifth grade next year but doesn’t have space to become a K-6 school.
The proposed new school still faces several hurdles: State building aid is difficult to get, and the merger, which has already generated some controversy, needs multiple approvals.
Though district leaders cautioned it would be a long process, Superintendent Mary Skipper said she was excited about “the opportunity to build a world-class facility to serve the Dorchester and Mattapan communities for generations to come.”
If the district’s application is approved, the state authority would partially reimburse the cost of building a new facility, with the amount based on factors including the district’s property wealth and the proportion of low-income students. For the under-construction Carter School, the authority agreed to reimburse about 64 percent of eligible building costs — over $50 million.
BPS will not find out whether the state will fund the project until the end of 2023; construction would not begin for three to four years, Delavern Stanislaus, the district’s head of capital planning, said in the letter to families, which was first reported by the Dorchester Reporter. In the meantime, the district would merge the two schools but continue using both campuses.
Stanislaus will present more information on the project at Wednesday’s School Committee meeting, she said.
“A new facility may not impact your family directly, but it will be transformational for students, families, educators, and the entire Southern Dorchester and Mattapan community for generations to come,” Stanislaus wrote.
The School Committee would need to approve both the Shaw-Taylor merger and the application to the MSBA. The application would also need City Council approval.
The Shaw-Taylor project is the only project the district currently plans to submit to the MSBA this year, a district spokesperson said. But submitting an application is far from a guarantee of success: Boston has failed to get its projects into the state funding pipeline over the last two years.
In 2021, it requested state funding for a new Horace Mann School for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing; last year, it submitted applications for new Otis and Blackstone school buildings. In addition to the Carter, Boston has gotten just three other major projects funded by the MSBA: Boston Arts Academy, Dearborn STEM Academy, and the Quincy Upper School.
Boston now intends to fund a new Horace Mann school itself, while it is still “exploring financial options” for the Otis and Blackstone projects.
And the Shaw-Taylor merger proposal itself has proven very controversial. Facing pushback, in October the district put it and another merger — the Philbrick and Sumner — on hold, while scrapping a third merger, of the Russell and Clap elementary schools.
As of February, the district’s plan is to merge the Shaw and the Taylor in September 2024 and the Sumner and Philbrick in September 2025. The School Committee is expected to vote on both mergers this spring.
In addition to enabling the grade reconfiguration, district officials have said the school consolidations will facilitate district-wide integrated classrooms for students with disabilities.
By the end of 2023, the city is required to have a 10-year plan for the Green New Deal, guiding decisions about which projects to undertake, in what order, and how much each will cost.