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Even With Smaller School, Roxbury Prep Building Plans Still Divisive

This article is more than 3 years old.

There’s no truce yet in the war over 361 Belgrade Ave. That’s the site on the West Roxbury/Roslindale border where Roxbury Prep hopes to build a new school to house its high school students who are currently split across two ad hoc campuses.

Roxbury Prep — a charter school serving almost exclusively students of color — has done years of outreach to persuade skeptical neighbors that a new school would benefit their community.

Last month, school officials announced that they had shrunk the planned size of the building by 46 percent in response to community concerns about density and congestion.

A rendering of the revised, smaller proposal for the new Roxbury Prep High School (Courtesy of Symmes Maini & McKee Associates)
A rendering of the revised, smaller proposal for the new Roxbury Prep High School (Courtesy of Symmes Maini & McKee Associates)

But a divided crowd turned up at a Wednesday hearing to discuss the smaller project.

Over the course of more than two hours, about as many people spoke against the proposed building as spoke in defense of it.

Dozens of people showed up in Roxbury Prep T-shirts and looked on as the school told its story: the discomforts of having a divided high school at present, a multi-year search through 57 sites before arriving at 361 Belgrade and the modifications made to allow for a shorter building, more parking spaces and easier access to a nearby commuter-rail stop.

After a presentation, Roslindale resident Dan Singleton said he appreciated the design modifications made in response to community input. But like many others in the auditorium, he still did no support the project.

“My biggest concern is the lack of critical infrastructure — i.e., the T, the buses, the train — and significant traffic congestion,” he said, citing Boston’s nation’s-worst score in a recent controversial survey of traffic conditions.

Singleton added that the Belgrade Ave. intersection is already poorly designed for its traffic load. But given that the community can’t remove an existing rotary, he said, “we can and should stop [new] initiatives that would hurt our community for years to come.”

John McPhail, a 50-year Roslindale resident, was more explicit as he addressed school leaders.

“This is not a good thing. … You’re snookerin’ us into something we do not want. Why don’t you find another place? We’d be happy to see you go!” (A handful of people applauded, despite a BPDA rule.)

McPhail was followed by Carol Mostow, who addressed him, saying, “I’m a neighbor of the school, and you do not speak for me. You did not speak for many of the neighbors.”

“I’m here to say to all the kids who want to come here, and the families: you are welcome! We want you!,” Mostow added.

She wasn’t alone in appealing to high ideals in support of the school. Nicole Beckles, a Roxbury Prep parent, said the school would be “a place where children can say, ‘this is where I came from,’ ‘this is where my future began’ — that’s very important.” She added that “trivial things like traffic” shouldn’t be allowed to disrupt that progress.

The back-and-forth around the school continued well beyond the meeting’s planned ending time of 8:30, with some neighbors lingering even after the end of the hearing. It tested the patience of both sides.

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In a testy exchange with Sara Harold of the Greater Belgrade Area Neighborhood Association -- a neighborhood group that opposes the school — Roxbury Prep’s real estate attorney Joe Hanley said he has listened to community concerns for two and a half years.

“Too many students! Too big! Too tall! Not enough parking!" he summarized community concerns. "And we came back and we significantly cut it.”

Hanley said, “I have never seen, in my 20 years of doing this, a small project that has gone through this much” change and analysis in response to community concerns.

After the meeting, the most outspoken opponents remained unpersuaded. They said the school could still find another site that’s more suitable and wouldn’t disrupt an existing neighborhood as deeply.

The BPDA will be receiving comments on the building until Feb. 22.

Earlier Coverage:

Max Larkin Twitter Reporter, Edify
Max Larkin is a multimedia reporter for Edify, WBUR's education vertical.

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