Church complex still top choice

March 16, 2007
By

LOU MANCINELLI

FOREST HILLS—Representatives of Young Achievers School and Urban Edge said at a meeting last week they intend to make a bid to purchase and develop the nearby St. Andrew the Apostle Church complex despite a lack of support from Boston Public Schools (BPS) for the current plan.

“We know there is a strain on the city budget,” said Don Gillis of the Friends of Young Achievers to a crowd of about 40 at a second community meeting at the school March 1. “But at the same time there is a need here.

“We are confident that when the mayor understands this project completely…that in a sense, this is not just about expansion to stop attrition, but is also engaging the community… we think he will understand,” he said.

Young Achievers school officials and parents say the school needs to expand to accommodate its growing success and city-wide math and science pilot school mission. They do not believe the city’s proposed scaled-back options solve their space needs.

“I imagine something at least halfway between their [BPS] proposal and halfway between our proposal,” said Mossik Hacobian, executive director of Urban Edge. “What that looks like, I don’t know yet… We’re not going to propose something for the school the city won’t support.”

If it comes down to leaving Jamaica Plain, school representatives said they will be forced to do what is necessary to meet its space needs. But, ideally, they do not want to leave the neighborhood where they said they worked hard to build a great relationship with the neighbors and community.

According to Virginia Chalmers, Young Achievers’ principal, after reading the Gazette’s March 2 article about BPS not supporting the current plan, a group of neighbors went in to see her at the school and express their support for restoring the site at St. Andrew’s.

Hacobian said representatives from Urban Edge and the school have requested a meeting with BPS and will be talking to the Mayor’s Office. He said he thinks they recognize the school’s needs and that discussions will continue.

At the meeting, Michael Foley, the broker hired by the Archdiocese to handle the marketing and sale of the just over 3-acre complex, acknowledged there are other potential bidders interested in the property. He said the bid period was slated to begin March 12 and continue through March 30.

After that, he said, the offers will be reviewed, and a decision could be made by the end of April.

“A successful offer is a combination of things,” said Foley. “The decision-making is done by several entities within the Catholic Church… My experience is [the decision is based on] a combination of money, mission, feasibility and viability.” He said a seller wants to make sure a transaction goes through.

Young Achievers and Urban Edge collaborated to join resources to be able to make a more enticing bid for the land.

At the meeting, architects from Utile, Inc. of Boston presented four different initial feasibility options development of the site might include.

According to Noah Maslan, Urban Edge project coordinator, the scenarios were based on responses community members at the Feb. 12 meeting provided about density and parking numbers on a questionnaire that was passed around.

In the initial plans, a mix of townhouses and two-family homes would be built on either the parcel where the kindergarten building now stands, directly across the street from the school on Wachusett Street or the rectory and an adjacent parking lot on Walk Hill Street.

All four options showed 53 to 55 units, a density averaging 32.5 units per acre among the four and a day and night parking ratio for each scenario. The day ratio remained at one parking space per unit throughout, while the night ratio did not climb above 1.5. Each option would also take some teacher and staff cars from off the street and put them in a parking lot.

Housing would be a mix of owner/rental and market-rate and affordable units priced within 80 to 100 percent of the city median income ($66,000 to $83,000 a year).

Community members at the meeting expressed support for Young Achievers, but said they were concerned about density. Some also expressed a desire for more affordable housing and a price range geared more towards a modest income.

“I have a lot of respect for Urban Edge. This is really a golden opportunity to bring rental housing into the neighborhood,” said Richard Heath, Woodbourne neighbor and a community organizer in Codman Square. “We’ve lost so much stock in JP in the last few years…if we put rental apartments of low- to modest-income in all of the developments, we still could not come close to those rental units we’ve lost in the last 35 years.”

Representatives from Young Achievers and Urban Edge will continue hosting community meetings to develop a vision the school, the community and BPS will support.

According to Hacobian, if the group acquires the complex, there would still be two years before construction would start. This would leave a lot of time for compromise.

He said that the school could immediately use the kindergarten building to solve some of the space needs, while further discussions with the community, school district and city were held.

“As a parent, I’m sick and tired of the school district saying, ‘We’ll give you what we want, not what you need,’” said Gillis.