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Whipping up support for rec center becomes a cause celebre for teen activists

Francisco Fernandez, campaigning for the recreation center, talked with Yarrelly Alvarez of Roxbury at Jackson Square Station on the Orange Line.Barry Chin/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

These teens weren’t even alive when the hockey rinks in Jamaica Plain and Roxbury were torn down more than 20 years ago. But they know something is missing from their quickly changing neighborhoods.

Today, plans to build the Jackson Square Recreation Center — a $21.5 million, 75,000-square foot facility with regulation size ice rink on the first floor and turf field on an upper floor — are closer than ever to becoming reality. But an $8.5 million funding gap remains, so whipping up support for the project has become something of a cause celebre for the teenage activsts, especially given the June expiration date on part of the secured funding.


A 2008 state bond dedicated $5.69 million to creating a permant ice rink but the money is available only through June, said Katie Provencher, deputy director of Urban Edge, a 40-year-old nonprofit that’s helping to spearhead Jackson Square’s redevelopment.

“We’ve come this far, and we’re not going to fail,” she said. “Everyone needs to chip in and make this a reality.”

Teens with the Hyde Square Task Force are determined to do their part to finish a decades-long endeavor to provide their diverse community with a recreational center.

There are 26,000 youth under age 18 living within a mile and half of the proposed recreational center, but about 60 percent of families don’t participate in organized sports because it costs too much and there are few opportunities, Urban Edge says.

In February, the teen activists held a rally, wanting to know “Where’s the love for urban youth?” They have begun meeting with city and state leaders. And they plan to hold a petition drive at the MBTA’s Jackson Square Station on the Orange Line, having commuters sign heart-shaped letters to Governor Charlie Baker. (Get it? Hearts and love?)

“I’ve been trying to spread the word by going to my school and handing out flyers and going to, legit, every single class and telling my teacher ‘Can I just take 10 minutes of your time to talk about this,” said Jonah Muñiz, 15, a student at John D. O’Bryant School of Mathematics and Science in Roxbury.


Muñiz’s pitch includes highlighting the health disparities between Boston’s neighborhoods and how the center could help combat them. Heart disease and strokes were among the leading causes of death in Roxbury and Jamaica Plain in 2013, according to a report from Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

The recreational center, Muñiz said, “is a place where people can go and improve their health. When I was younger, even though I am young, I always wanted to go some place where I could be active and socialize at the same time, but there were never really many opportunities.”

Part of the site for the Jackson Square Recreational Center.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

About 90 percent of Jackson Square residents are people of color, and more than a third live in poverty, according to Urban Edge.

“Ice hockey and the turf will both be popular for the community,” said 16-year-old Shayne Clinton, of Roxbury. “A lot of people don’t really have the opportunity to ice skate, especially in this area, except during the wintertime at Kelly Rink, which is closed down through most of the year. People have to travel all the way to West Roxbury. That’s where I go if the Kelly Rink isn’t open.”

And, he said, it takes about 90 minutes to get to the Jim Roche Community Arena by T or 30 minutes if he can get a ride.


There was a time when that wasn’t the case.

Ice skating used to be a popular sport at Melnea Cass Rink in Washington Park and Kelly Rink in Jamaica Plain — though not the temporary outdoor facility that now sits behind the Stonybrook MBTA stop. Both were shuttered by the mid-1990s because of serious structural problems, limiting access to the ice for generations of Bostonians.

The tale of this soon-to-be-developed site, at Columbus Avenue and Ritchie Street, began in the 1960s, when the state tried to build the Southwest Expressway through the neighborhood. Officials were met with large-scale community resistance, and the project was stopped — but not before many properties were demolished.

The lots sat fallow, and blight set in. What once was a bustling neighborhood square became more of an intersection. But slowly, Jackson Square is rebounding.

A six-story, 103-unit, mixed-income apartment has gone up at 225 Centre Street. Across the street is a new 37-unit housing project where Urban Edge’s headquarters are located. The recreation center will help reknit a community that was physically divided by the failed effort to build the highway.

“If you think about it,” 17-year-old Ayub Tahlil of Roxbury said, “there are a lot of basketball hoops and courts around Roxbury and Dorchester and JP. There’s a lot of people who play professional basketball who are black and Latino. So it makes sense that if they have the ability to ice skate too, then those people would also join into the professional league in those aspects.”


Frank Shea, executive director of Urban Edge, said the recreational center should soon be a reality.

“We’re working through the fund-raising challenge,” he said. “We have three large asks out that we expect to be wrapping up in the next several weeks. That would get us to 90 percent of the funding needed.”

And, he said, they hope to break ground in the fall, which would be a happy ending for a story decades in the making.

“To see all this energy coming back, it gives me a lot of hope,” state Representative Jeffrey Sanchez said. “Billions of dollars of investment is going on downtown, but how does that translate to a part of the city that can bring so much to a neighborhood? That’s why these kids are saying, ‘Hey, where’s the love? Show us the love.’ ”

Map: Site of proposed recreation center

Akilah Johnson can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @akjohnson1922.