Alumni of the John D. O'Bryant School of Math & Science were invited to tour the proposed new site of the exam school in West Roxbury earlier this month, as city and district leaders move forward with the controversial school relocation plan.
The tour was organized by the mayor's office, the district's capital planning team and Richard O'Bryant, the chair of the alumni steering committee and the son of the school's namesake, a spokesperson for Boston Public Schools said in an email.
The visit gave officials the opportunity to learn what resources alumni wished had been available when they attended the O'Bryant and collect ideas about how the West Roxbury space could be remodeled for current students, said the spokesperson.
But the alumni-only event, which took place on July 8, has prompted some current O'Bryant school community members to question why the tour was not open to them.
"That was concerning to me and to other folks," said O'Bryant teacher Robert Comeau in a phone call. "The stakeholders who this move is going to impact really need to be involved now so that they can understand what the move will mean."
Officials said they are planning a follow-up tour for O'Bryant staff.
The alumni tour came approximately one month after Boston city officials announced a proposal to move the O'Bryant, the most racially diverse of Boston's three exam schools, from Roxbury to the former West Roxbury Education Complex seven miles away.
The O'Bryant currently shares a building with Madison Park Technical Vocational High School. Boston Mayor Michelle Wu and Boston Public School Superintendent Mary Skipper said the proposed relocation would allow the O'Bryant to grow by 400 seats and make room for Madison Park Tech to expand into a modernized vocational school and hub for workforce development as a part of the Green New Deal for Boston Public Schools.
The O'Bryant proposal drew criticism from parents and educators who say the move would make transportation to the new West Roxbury site prohibitively long for some students and result in a decrease in the school's racial diversity.
To publicize the alumni tour, a district spokesperson said organizers reached out to alumni email lists and Facebook groups. Around 30 participants joined, ranging from members of the class of 1960 to this year's graduating class.
According to a BPS spokesperson, participants said they were impressed by how spacious the building and campus were. Officials have billed the West Roxbury site as a future state-of-the-art STEM campus.
But some alumni who took part in the tour said they were hoping for a richer conversation about the impacts of the proposed move.
Recent graduate Mary Matero said she thought the former West Roxbury Education Complex was "nice," but said she showed up that Saturday hoping to engage in a discussion about whether the move was the best and only option for the O'Bryant community.
Matero, 18, said she worries that moving the school to West Roxbury will break up the current community and make it less accessible for her friends in Dorchester and East Boston, whose commute times would be extended.
"Moving to West Roxbury is going to just completely change the demographics," said Matero, a West Roxbury resident. "It's like they're taking this good school, and trying to transform the demographics to make it for another community."
However, when she brought up those concerns during the visit, she said she was "shut down."
"They said we had to move on," said Matero. "I think they just want to persuade people that this is going to be a beautiful building."
The proposed relocation is still subject to a Boston School Committee vote in the next year. The city expects renovations at the West Roxbury complex to begin in 2025 and the school to open a year later.
Jonathan Muniz, a 2020 graduate of O'Bryant, said he appreciated how expansive and open the WREC campus is, but wished district officials had addressed his main concern: transportation to and from the West Roxbury location.
When he brought up the issue, officials scribbled down notes, Muniz said. But they did not offer any solutions, leaving him feeling as if this concern was placed on the "back burner."
"I can only hope that they're going to take these notes, bring it to the mayor and really just try to work things out," the 21-year-old said.
The lack of community engagement around the O'Bryant move has been a thorny issue since the proposal was announced. Some teachers said they only learned about the plan to relocate the school the day before the press conference. This latest alumni-only visit has served to create more frustration about the transparency of the process.
"It's not something where they're trying to get broad input," said Rahul Dhanda, whose son, an O'Bryant alum, had not heard about the tour. "They're cherry picking who participates."
A BPS spokesperson said officials will be meeting with the broader community in the fall.
"The district will engage the overall community throughout this process and will update the public when any engagements are confirmed," said the spokesperson.
WBUR education reporter Max Larkin contributed to this report.