Officials at Roxbury Prep managed to provide a presentation on their proposal for an 800-student high school on Belgrade Avenue at a meeting tonight at which they were accused of getting ready to ruin the neighborhood, by people who said they don't understand why the school can't put its building someplace else, someplace more "central" to students from Dorchester, Roxbury and Hyde Park than the Roslindale/West Roxbury line.
Aides to the mayor and City Councilor Tim McCarthy at times struggled to maintain decorum in the overcrowded meeting room at District E-5. The meeting was so jammed, some people tried to listen in through an open door as they stood on a walkway outside; one woman in that crowd managed to get in a question through a window cracked open a few inches. The meeting started with calls to reschedule the meeting or to move it to the Holy Name parish hall across the rotary. "Even though it's Ash Wednesday, we still need a little more room here!" one woman exclaimed.
Roxbury Prep, a charter school, has yet to formally file plans with the BPDA or the zoning board for its $28.5-million proposal to replace the current Clay Auto and NTB buildings.
The session tonight was officially an "informal" meeting for abutters to learn more about the proposal and help the school fine tune the proposal for a three-story high school that would include science labs, a gym, a theater and a cafeteria - which Roxbury Prep's current secondary program, housed in two separate buildings in JP and Roxbury, doesn't have.
Proposed exterior design, as seen from across Belgrade:
Traffic and parking were two key issues. School officials expect that 90% of the students would continue to take public transportation to the new school, which is one of the reasons they chose the Clay site, because it's right next to the Bellevue stop on the Needham Line, a short ride from Forest Hills, and is passed by three bus lines out of Forest Hills. 66 parking spaces would be more than enough for staffers and the occasional visitor, they said.
Many residents didn't buy this for a second. "We can't even rely on the T to be on time for us," and parents would start driving their kids to school, one resident said. "You don't know what you're talking about," another resident told school officials. "Don't lie to me."
Other residents said West Roxbury Parkway and Belgrade Avenue are already, as one put it, "chock-a-block" in the morning and worried that students - both from Roxbury Prep and from other schools playing its teams in the gym - would begin parking on their streets. They pointed to MJ's - now Stash's - on Belgrade Avenue as an example of how they can't trust the word of any proposed operation along Belgrade. One resident said she was not opposed to the school but said she is worried that ongoing development along Belgrade is too much and called on city officials to do something.
Adam Seidel, director of operations for the school, said students and parents will not tie up nearby parking spaces, that the school has strong conduct policies and that he personally would be out and about ensuring the school does not interfere with the neighborhood - he said he would even give residents his cell number.
One resident brought up what she said was the school's high attrition rate from ninth to tenth grade, so high, she said, that any BPS school that had such a rate would be shut down. Seidel said a key reason for the attrition is that students want to go to a school with proper facilities, which Roxbury Prep doesn't currently have - and which, he added, is why it wants to build a new school.
"Put it somplace else!" one resident yelled. "We're taxpayers! We don't want it here!"
Comments like that prompted Celdra Allen-Harding, a Roxbury Prep parent who lives in Roslindale, to say she was hurt to hear her neighbors talk about "those people" and how Roxbury Prep officials should "put it in their neighborhoods."
A number of residents yelled "No!" and said they have nothing against the school, but that that corner is just the wrong location for it because of the traffic and parking issues.
A couple of minutes later, though, a resident noted how few of the school's students come from Roslindale and West Roxbury, said the school "benefits people from other neighborhoods" and demanded to know: "Why are we being asked to shoulder this?"
Residents and a member of the development team then got into an argument over whether the site is in West Roxbury or Roslindale. When the guy noted that one reason to build the school in Roslindale was because Roslindale currently doesn't have a high school, a resident replied it used to, but then the city shut it and moved everybody over to that giant high school in West Roxbury.
"Sorry, I can't do anything about that," he replied, which was not what the resident wanted to hear. "Half the kids (at West Roxbury) don't care about the neighborhood," she said. "This school is water tight," and its students know acting up before or after school has consequences, school attorney Joe Hanley said.
Many residents snorted and harrumphed, although other residents said they are glad Roslindale might be getting a high school and that even if neighbors see no direct immediate benefit, they would see long-term benefits from the well educated, community-minded students the school would turn out.
The battle over student conduct continued. One Guernsey Street resident said she just knew the students would start congregating in the neighborhood, buying and doing drugs and spray painting graffiti all over. "It's going to change the whole fabric of the neighborhood!" she complained, adding, no, she has nothing against Roxbury Prep students. "I don't care if they're in Wellesley, in West Roxbury or in Mattapan," students are students, and they cause trouble by their very nature, she said.
"I don't know what fantasy world you're living in!" a school backer yelled at her, praising the school for running a tight ship that produces well educated students not neighborhood nuisances.
"It's nothing about the children," one Iona Road resident said. "Please don't do this to yourself - or to us."
He said his main criticism was that the school is simply too small for 800 kids. "It's like a Japanese hotel room." But he was also concerned about parents double parking as they drop off or pick up kids. "I don't want it to be like South Boston."