New schools raise traffic concerns

SOUTH ST.—One of two schools opening next week in the former Agassiz building at 20 Child St. will use a Carolina Avenue entrance for school bus drop-off and pick-up for the first time, raising traffic concerns among local residents, who include state Rep. Liz Malia.

Malia and City Councilor Matt O’Malley both opposed the plan, which will shut down Carolina Avenue traffic for at least 10 minutes in the morning and afternoon, at a hastily arranged community meeting with Boston Public Schools (BPS) officials held Aug. 28 at English High School.

BPS officials apologized for the lack of notice about the plan, but made it clear that the heavy opposition from about 25 residents and elected officials doesn’t matter at this point. They said there will be a monitoring period through Oct. 12 to see what the traffic impact is, and change it if necessary. There will be a follow-up meeting later, and residents can contact BPS transportation director Carl Allen at 617-635-9520 about any problems.

“A lot of us who are neighbors are really angry because we were disrespected,” Malia told the BPS officials to applause. “The message is, ‘A, you don’t count, and B, we’re not going to tell your elected officials because we’re going to do what we want.’”

“We probably should have had this meeting six months ago rather than today,” acknowledged BPS Chief Financial Officer John McDonough.

The Mission Hill K-8 will use the Carolina Avenue entrance, while the Muñiz Academy will use the Child Street entrance formerly used for years by Agassiz Elementary School students prior to that building’s closure last year.

The two entrances are intended to separate the younger students and the freshman high-schoolers of the Muñiz Academy. Carolina was chosen for the K-8 school because it is nearer an entrance that goes directly into the classroom area, and has a handicapped-access ramp. That move was suggested earlier by Mission Hill K-8 parents, as the Gazette previously reported.

“I’m going to stand with the neighbors on this,” said O’Malley. He said he prefers that both schools use one entrance, or barring that, that the K-8 use Child Street because it is already set up for buses and has a parking lot for extra room. He also noted that BPS has committed to the Muñiz Academy staying in the building only for two years, meaning the transportation situation could change.

BPS Chief of Staff Tim Nicolette emphasized some key differences in the busing situation of today’s K-8 and the former Agassiz. While the Agassiz had 22 buses, many of them full-sized, the K-8 will have 14 buses and most of them will be mini-buses.

Likewise, the K-8 enrollment is much lower than the old Agassiz, though it will grow over time, possibly increasing the number of buses. Enrollment this year is expected to hit 212, according to Principal Ayla Gavins. It will expand to 300 over the next several years. Most of the students don’t ride school buses, she said.

The Muñiz Academy starts with 80 students and will expand to 320 over four years. But high-schoolers generally are not provided with school bus transportation.

The K-8 school will have a later opening time of 9:25 a.m., with buses arriving around 9:10, to lessen impact on residents getting to work. Nicolette said BPS expected loading and unloading to take about 10 minutes, a claim that drew skepticism from residents.

Residents pointed out that, unlike Child, Carolina is one of the few connecting streets between Washington Street and the Centre/South corridor, making it heavily used by police cars, fire trucks and ambulances. The BPS officials did not seem to be aware of that, but said that that police and fire officials agreed to the plan, though some residents said local police officials told them they had not heard of it.

BPS is also working with the Boston Transportation Department about possibly changing the timing of the traffic light at Carolina and South to reduce traffic back-ups during the bus times, Nicolette said.

Gavin and other K-8 school officials expressed unhappiness with the neighborhood criticism, saying they know how to get kids in and out of school. Gavins said that a group of K-8 parents has organized an alternative transportation group so students can walk, bike or take the T.

Gavins told the Gazette after the meeting that it “feels very strange” to resolve problems in that forum instead of a sit-down inside her school. She said that the students will build a relationship with residents, including through an open house and picnics.

Meanwhile, construction crews are working frantically inside the building to have the Margarita Muñiz Academy and Mission Hill K-8 School ready for the first day of school on Sept. 6. As it happens, the state primary election will be held that same day, with the building as a local polling place.

BPS is working with the City’s Election Department and does not expect major issues, according to BPS spokesperson Matt Wilder. He advised voters to “give themselves a couple extra minutes” if they will be seeking parking spaces near a polling place inside a public school.

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