When MATCH moves in, other groups move out

PARKSIDE—MATCH Charter Public School’s upcoming move into 215 Forest Hills St. was met with general neighborhood approval at a June 27 meeting at the property, which MATCH recently agreed to buy.

But the MATCH move also means that next year, two schools and two nonprofit organizations will be booted from the site and looking for new homes.

They include Parkside Christian Academy, the Generation Excel Youth Program and the well-known Boston TenPoint Coalition (BTPC) ministers’ group.

Also on the move will be the new MATCH Community Day elementary school that MATCH will operate at 215 Forest Hills just for the 2011-12 school year. MATCH’s middle school will become the site’s permanent resident.

All of that home-hunting could impact the future of the Boston Public School’s recent shuttered Agassiz Elementary School on Child Street.

“If it’s out for proposals, we’ll look at it” as a possible MATCH Community Day permanent home, MATCH Executive Director Alan Safran told the Gazette about the Agassiz School.

Also up in the air is the future of MATCH Middle School’s current home at the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church campus at Walk Hill and Wachusett streets in Forest Hills. Bethel AME is considering a “strategic plan” for its campus buildings, church chief executive officer Ken Grooms told the Gazette.

The school move involves complicated site-trading between MATCH and Bethel AME. The two organizations are separate but friendly, with Bethel AME’s Rev. Ray Hammond sitting on Allston-based MATCH’s board of directors.

Bethel AME owns both its Walk Hill campus and 215 Forest Hills, which used to be its church headquarters.

MATCH Middle School opened in an old school building on the Walk Hill campus in 2008. Bethel AME is now selling 215 Forest Hills to MATCH because the expanding school needs more space.          MATCH will first use the property to start its elementary school, operated jointly with Lawrence’s Community Day Charter Public School. In 2012, the Middle School will move in. The elementary school then will search for a new home—likely in multiple buildings due to plans to expand to 700 students within eight years, Safran said. That expansion will not necessarily be in JP.

It is possible that MATCH would return to the school on the Walk Hill campus, but “only as a fallback,” said Safran. MATCH would prefer a larger, permanent home for its elementary school, he said.

The independent Parkside Christian Academy has been at 215 Forest Hills since 1976. It will operate in shared space with MATCH Community Day for a year, but must leave in 2012 as its lease will not be renewed. That decision was not Parkside’s, according to school head Rev. Dr. Michael Dixon.

“This year, Bethel felt they had to sell the building…[U]nfortunately, we were not in a position to buy it,” Dixon said in an email to the Gazette.

“Although we are sad about the prospect of leaving the location that we have called home, the school is not the building,” said Dixon. “We would love to stay in the Jamaica Plain community and have been researching buildings in JP and the Boston area that may be a good next location for the school.”

Bethel AME operates the Generational Excel program and is closely involved with BTPC. Grooms said that BTPC is already looking for a new home, and that Bethel AME is “not sure of the long-term plans” for Generation Excel.

MATCH’s permanent move into 215 Forest Hills will involve no new construction, only interior renovations, according to school officials at the June 27 meeting, held at the site. Curb cuts and a driveway on the site will be widened to allow school buses. There are no plans to cut down any trees.

Most of that work would happen next summer and likely will need city design approval, according to MATCH’s attorney, Dennis Quilty. That is because the property falls under special zoning districts for the Williams Street area and for Franklin Park, which is right across the street. The move may also require a zoning variance for extension of a non-conforming use, according to Quilty. That means that schools are not allowed under the existing zoning code.

About 10 residents at the meeting expressed concerns about potential traffic back-ups and about youths tossing debris into yards from a cliff behind the school. Safran said MATCH would address both of those issues.

Joe Finnegan, a neighbor of MATCH’s current home at the Walk Hill campus, took part in the school’s meeting presentation as a reportedly unpaid advocate. He praised MATCH students and staff as highly disciplined, including in traffic management. He said he was “heartbroken” to learn that MATCH is leaving the Walk Hill campus.

MATCH schools have large staffs. The Middle School eventually will have about 95 staff members, Safran said. But most of them use public transportation, he added. He said he expects the elementary school staff to have about 10 to 15 cars on site, and the Middle School to have 20 to 30.

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