Family education center proposed for Bromley

David Taber

Artist’s Rendering Courtesy Horizon Design
This schematic design is the view at the corner of Bickford Walk and Horan Way of Associated Early Care & Education’s planned Jamaica Plain Child and Family Care.

JACKSON SQ.—A rooftop greenhouse, outdoor classrooms and weekend programming by the Boston’s Children’s Museum could be heading Bromley-Heath’s way if Associated Early Care and Education (AECE) can pull off ambitious plans for a new education center.

And that’s not all. The proposed 19,000-square-foot, $10.5 million Child and Family Development Center would include space for adult education classes, computer classrooms and on-site family health care services.

According to a press release issued by the Boston Housing Authority (BHA), “The new center will fulfill an unmet need for early education research and training in Boston. The center will be the only early education facility in Boston equipped with observation windows that will allow students and researchers to view the classroom without disrupting it.”

Construction will begin in fall, 2011 if everything goes to plan.

Talk of the new center comes amid long-expressed concerns about lack of youth-oriented community space in Jackson Square, especially as major plans for a 30,000-square-foot Youth and Family Center near the Jackson Square T Station stalled last year.

AECE has been providing child care services at Bromley-Heath for over 50 years. Last week, it signed an agreement with the Boston Housing Authority (BHA) designating the care provider as the developer of the site at 33-41 Bickford St., the long-vacant former home of the Martha Eliot Health Center. But that milestone is just one of many AECE will have to pass en route to building the new center.

For one thing, the child care provider is hoping to bring on as many as 15 community partners to help expand the services at the new building beyond its own “core competence” of early child care, said AECE CEO Wayne Ysaguirre. Potential partners include local organizations Martha Eliot and JP Head Start—both located at Bromley-Heath—and the Jackson Square-based community development corporation Urban Edge. They also include citywide institutions like the Children’s Museum and even Boston Public Schools, he said.

The effort—first discussed by AECE at a 2007 community meeting—is an ambitious one, Ysaguirre said. It is based on years studying disparities in childhood development and achievement that show that a holistic approach to providing services is most effective for eliminating those disparities. “It can’t just be about kids’ education. It has to be about the parents…if you want a return,” he said.

The hope is that the new programming will be a national model for childcare providers, he said.

While part of AECE’s proposal is to extend the reach of its programming beyond Bromley-Heath into the surrounding community, residents at the housing development would still have priority, Ysaguirre said.

The project also offers a number of potential community benefits, including community garden plots outdoor and play areas accessible to residents when programs are not in session, and a community room in the new building. The Children’s Museum may also run programs in the new building on the weekends, Ysaguirre said.

Bromley-Heath Tenant Management Corporation deputy director David Worrell did not return Gazette phone calls by press time.

Much remains to be done between now and the new facility’s projected 2011 groundbreaking. AECE still has to raise about $7 million for the project, and deals with the wide array of community partners still have to be finalized. That includes an agreement with BPS that would allow AECE to run an official pre-kindergarten “K1” program.

Solidifying that partnership could be important to the long-term stability of the new program, Ysaguirre said. According to BPS spokesperson Matt Wilder, though, the school system has not yet officially even entered into talks with AECE.

“It appears that we haven’t yet met with [AECE] to hear and learn more about their proposal,” he said in an e-mail.

Likewise, AECE still has to finalize its agreement with the Children’s Museum, Ysaguirre said. The child care provider has ongoing relationships with other groups it hopes to partner with, including the Boston Nature Center in Mattapan, which regularly runs programs for AECE children.

AECE was awarded a grant by an anonymous donor, specifically to “broker those agreements,” Ysaguirre said.

Ysagguire said he is confident there is funding out there for AECE’s project. “Foundations and corporations have money to spend. Our job is to convince them that this project is one of the places to spend it,” he said.

Claudio Martinez, head of the Hyde Square Task Force (HSTF)—a partner in the plan for the 30,000-square-foot Youth and Family Center—previously told the Gazette that proposal is “the basic minimum investment” the over 12,000 youth in Hyde and Jackson squares need. HSTF is currently working to raise $5 million to renovate the Cheverus Building in Hyde Square, where it currently runs most of its programming.

In early April, AECE was named one of the top 10 school readiness providers for at-risk children in the state by Cambridge-based research and consulting firm Root Cause, the BHA press release said.

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