Parents create designs for school relocation

April 6, 2012
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Three parents at the Mission Hill K-8 School—two of them architects—have drawn up the school’s own designs for its new home in Jamaica Plain, where it will controversially move as soon as September.

The free designs, complete with floor plans, were submitted to Boston Public Schools in January. They aim to improve conditions at the shuttered, bunker-like Agassiz School building in JP, a mold-plagued concrete tower that is a far cry from the pilot school’s well-appointed current home at 67 Alleghany St.

Parent and architect Nancy Sadecki told the Gazette that the parents involved were among those “shaking our fists in the air against the move for a number of reasons.”

“We had to shift our attitude big-time” when they decided to help plan the new school facility, she said. “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.”

“Mission Hill is a really unique school and I think we just want to make sure the vision of the staff and school…could be articulated properly in the new space,” said Chris McGroddy, another parent and architect on the team.

“We’ve worked to incorporate many of the designs and plans developed by the parents of the Mission Hill K-8 School,” said BPS spokesperson Matt Wilder in an email to the Gazette.

The parents said they have little BPS feedback so far, except for the idea that the work could be phased in over three years. Phase one will simply be bringing the building up to code, Sadecki said.

“We are a little nervous as time is ticking away here,” said McGroddy, noting the tight timeframe for a move slated for September. It is possible the move could be delayed, but Wilder said that BPS plans to open Mission K-8 in its new location this fall.

The building that Mission K-8 currently shares with New Mission High School will be filled by Fenway High School after the complex BPS moves. The Fenway High move has been delayed to allow more rehab work to be done at 67 Alleghany.

The Mission K-8 move, announced last fall, was hotly opposed by many parents and community leaders as a loss to the neighborhood and for sending a successful school to a dubious building.

Mission K-8 will share space in the Agassiz building on Child Street with a new school called the Margarita Muñiz Academy. It will offer some features the school currently lacks, including a large gym, auditorium and playground.

But the Agassiz, which closed last year, is a notorious building that was once the target of calls for demolition by Boston city councilors. It was known as a “sick building” for mold-related air-quality issues. It also was built with outdated design features, including a lack of windows and an open floor plan with few actual classrooms.

“Agassiz is basically concrete blocks and vinyl floors,” said McGroddy. The main design items include adding windows; using more inviting materials such as wood on the interiors; and creating a noticeable, covered entryway for the school, which will be on the building’s second floor.

BPS has its own architect working on the various school moves and asked Mission K-8 to provide a list of priorities for its new facility. Principal Ayla Gavins invited the parents to join the committee that submitted suggestions to BPS. The parents soon suggested drawing up a formal “master plan” rather than a mere wish list.

The plan “leaves no room for [BPS] to interpret” the school’s wishes and lays out features that can be the target of advocacy and fund-raising, Sadecki said. She noted that parents are concerned that BPS will not have time to give the Agassiz rehab enough individual attention without the outside input.

The parents’ designs also create new classroom spaces, seating areas and possibly a roof garden. The mold issue is “still a concern,” Sadecki said, noting that BPS may install a drainage system around the entire building to reduce moisture build-up.

Bob Goodman, another Mission K-8 parent who was not involved in the designs, said in an email to the Gazette that he is pleased with them.

“Even though I, like many parents, opposed the move, I personally am pleased with these plans…and think that if adopted, they would help restore the Agassiz building to serving as a great educational asset for the community,” he wrote.

The parents’ design, showing a Mission K-8 School entrance to the Agassiz building on Carolina Avenue in Jamaica Plain. (Courtesy Illustration)

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