Boston school officials announced Tuesday they have reached significant milestones in their effort to overhaul the system’s aging buildings and adjust to changing enrollment — purchasing a site in East Boston for a school, finalizing a land deal in Chinatown for another school, and approving plans for 17 elementary schools to add sixth grade.
Officials also revealed that the McCormack Middle School in Dorchester would merge with Boston Community Leadership Academy in Hyde Park and that they would accelerate the closing of the Edwards Middle School in Charlestown. Officials, who are phasing out middle schools, said they are targeting a June 2021 closure for the Edwards because its building is needed to accommodate a boom of younger students in the area.
Interim Superintendent Laura Perille called the developments “an exciting and pivotal moment” for the school system’s long-term facilities plan known as BuildBPS. She noted that the moves are the culmination of months meeting with school communities and neighborhood residents about how to address the unique enrollment and facility challenges in their sections of the city.
“The story of BuildBPS is always about balancing citywide needs with the inspirations of individual schools in particular neighborhoods,” she said.
The two land purchases attempt to remedy a shortage of classrooms in East Boston and jumpstart an effort to construct a new building for the Josiah Quincy Upper School in Chinatown, which has experienced a number of failed bids for other sites.
The new East Boston school would be built at 189 Paris St., which the city officially bought on Friday for $3.8 million. A former school building on that site will be razed. School officials have not yet decided which East Boston school would move into the new facility.
The Quincy Upper School — if all goes according to plan — would finally get a new building on the site of the Boston Chinese Evangelical Church at 249 Harrison Ave., which the city is in the process of purchasing for $9.5 million. A portion of the building would also be built on adjacent city-owned property, where the Upper Quincy has had two modular classroom units for about two decades.
The new building would be across the street from the Josiah Quincy Elementary School. The Quincy Upper would move out of its second site in Bay Village.
Richard Chang, the Quincy Upper School’s longtime headmaster who is filling in as an academic superintendent, said the new building will finally enable the two schools to realize their dream of operating near one another.
“I think we are all very happy — the school community and the Chinatown community — that we have reached this juncture,” Chang said.
The Quincy Upper has struggled for more than a decade to find a location in the Chinatown area, where available property is hard to come by and the school district has faced stiff competition from private developers.
Three years ago, school officials planned to build the school in the South End at the site of the McKinley School, which serves students with significant emotional impairments, setting off a firestorm among McKinley supporters. School officials abandoned the plan.
The Quincy Upper’s efforts also made headlines six years ago when officials there intended to partner with Boston Arts Academy on a joint building on Kneeland Street, which would have set a state public school construction record at the time. But the school building authority rejected the bid, noting the high cost.
The wait has come at a price, Chang said. Most science classes don’t have access to functioning labs, forcing students to watch YouTube videos to simulate lab experiments. The school also lacks space for a library, gym, and arts programs, forcing instrumental students to practice in hallways.
The McCormack merger with Boston Community Leadership Academy is a big victory for the McCormack. Perille initially recommended closing the school and relocating its programs to Excel High School in South Boston and renovating the McCormack building for another school.
But McCormack supporters pushed back and persuaded her and the School Committee to let them merge with another high school and move back into the building as a combined school when the renovation is complete.
During renovations, scheduled between 2020 and 2022, the McCormack will temporarily share space with Irving Middle School in Roslindale, while Boston Community Leadership Academy will remain at its Hyde Park site during that time.
Elvis Henriquez, the McCormack’s principal, said his school appreciates the School Department’s willingness to work with them on the merger.
“We have a major opportunity to continue this positive collaboration and to create a new school that could transform the grade 7-12 experience for students of all backgrounds,” he said in a statement.
In eliminating middle schools, Boston is moving toward having two major grade configurations to reduce the number of times students switch schools. Under the plan, lower-grade schools would end after grade six or eight and upper-grade schools would begin at grade seven or nine.
Five elementary schools in South Boston and Dorchester would add grade six in September 2020: Dever, Perkins, Tynan, Everett and Clap, which feed into the McCormack. (The McCormack would drop its grade six as part of its merger.)
Six other elementary schools would also add grade six in September 2020: Channing in Hyde Park, Conley in Roslindale, Hale in Roxbury, Manning in Jamaica Plain, Harvard-Kent in Charlestown, and Mattahunt in Mattapan. The following year six East Boston elementary schools would expand to grade six: Adams, Bradley, Guild, Otis, P.J. Kennedy, and O’Donnell.
It remains unclear under the plan which lower grades would eventually inhabit the Edwards building in Charlestown. Options include having the space used by the Warren-Presscot K-8 or by the Harvard-Kent or creating a new program.
The changes appear to have the support of incoming Superintendent Brenda Cassellius.
“BuildBPS offers an incredible opportunity to achieve a goal we all have — high-quality schools in every neighborhood,” she said in a statement. “I am proud of the commitments already made and look forward to engaging with the entire BPS family soon to continue this important strategic work in ensuring equitable and excellent schools for every BPS student.”
James Vaznis can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @globevaznis.