School renovation rushes to meet deadline

August 31, 2012
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(Gazette Photo by Peter Shanley) Project director Bob Smith (left) walks past a worker upgrading a stair rail inside the former Agassiz School building on Aug. 23.

The roughly $4 million renovation of the old Agassiz building at 20 Child St. is nearing completion with the Boston Public Schools (BPS) opening day of Sept. 6 rapidly approaching.

The renovated building will contain the Mission Hill K-8 School, which will retain its name despite moving to Jamaica Plain, and the new Margarita Muñiz Academy, the state’s first public bilingual English and Spanish high school.

“We getting close [to completion],” said Bob Smith, project director of BPS’s Facilities Management, during a Gazette tour of the building on Aug. 23.

The two schools will use separate entrances, with Carolina Avenue used for drop-off and pick-up for the first time. That move has raised traffic impact concerns among local residents, according to state Rep. Liz Malia, who lives on Child Street.

Smith said during the Gazette tour that he expected to have 95 percent of the construction done by Aug. 28, with touch-ups to follow.

Smith said the construction schedule is the tightest he has ever seen in his 23 years with BPS. The first day of construction was July 9.

“It’s been an insane project because of the condensed schedule,” said Smith.

He said workers have been pulling double shifts and working seven days a week.

Smith said that before the reconstruction, the building had a “terrible design” and “no flow” to it. Smith showed the Gazette several places where obtrusive walls had been cleared to make way for free-flowing hallways.

Smith also showed the Gazette where removable partitions between classrooms had been removed and replaced with permanent walls.

Two main points of the reconstruction have been open space and natural lighting. Smith had heard those requests from parents and incorporated them into the design.

The Gazette reported earlier in the year about a group of Mission Hill K-8 parents sending reconstruction designs for the building to BPS. The main design items included adding windows; using more inviting materials such as wood on the interiors; and creating the separate entrance on Carolina.

The Gazette saw abundant natural light and an open feel in much of the building, especially to the K-8’s library and main office, which are combined. The library uses bamboo for desks and bookcases. Smith said “going green” was another desire of parents.

John Ruch contributed to this article.

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