Long Awaited Downtown School Announcement at 585 Commercial Street

Happy Eliot School children with their award winning principal, Traci Walker Griffith.

Happy Eliot School children with their award winning principal, Traci Walker Griffith.

It was a celebratory mood at Friday’s official announcement by Mayor Tom Menino that the City of Boston is acquiring the North End / Waterfront property at 585 Commercial Street to be renovated for a new K-8 public school in Downtown Boston. Since the news came out yesterday, it was disclosed that the City’s purchase price is $12.85 million for the space formerly occupied by Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign and Roche Bobois furniture store.

The general footprint of the property will remain the same, according to city officials, but the entire interior will be renovated to school standards. The attached parking lot will be a drop-off space and allow for school-related traffic to stay off crowded Commercial Street, especially during events and funerals at the Boston Harborside Home across the street.

Boston Public Schools will temporarily use the space for the Eliot K-8 Innovation School while that school is expanded into the former North Bennet Street School properties. Upon completion and pending School Committee approval, the school will accommodate more than 500 students in grades K-8.

After the Eliot properties are renovated, the new K-8 school is expected to open in September 2016. Design for the new downtown school will begin in Fall 2013, with construction expected to begin in June 2015. The Commercial Street facility will be used over the next two years as swing space for the Eliot K-8 School, as that school is expanded to the North Bennett Street School at 37-39 North Bennet St. and 48-52 Tileston St. in the North End. Eight classrooms and public space will serve Eliot students in grades 5-8 through June 2015.

“It’s a great day for our downtown families who have been very patient as we’ve worked to find a solution that would allow their children to attend a Boston Public School close to home,” Mayor Menino said. “Today’s announcement marks another step forward as we work to improve our entire Boston Public Schools system, where more parents are choosing to send their children every year.”

Boston Public Schools today also said today that it is seeing an 8% increase in students requesting Kindergarten (K2) seats for this fall. This year, 289 more families requested a K2 seat during the first round of registration as compared to last year.

The location offers direct access to the Harborwalk, a skating rink, tennis courts, bus routes and parking. Children from downtown neighborhoods would have access to the school, as well as families from East Boston and other neighborhoods identified in the BPS facilities long-term strategic plan if needed.

Over the past ten years, the number of school-age children has increased by 23 percent in downtown Boston; by 36 percent in the Back Bay; and by 20 percent in Beacon Hill. The City closed downtown schools more than 30 years ago, because at the time few expected these neighborhoods would again attract so many young families.

The Boston City Council must vote to approve funding from surplus property to acquire property. The proposal will be submitted to the Council on Monday, along with a request for an expedient hearing. The new school will also require approval from the Boston School Committee.

Over the past several years, the City, along with the Boston Redevelopment Authority and Boston Public Schools, has scoured neighborhoods and pursued dozens of sites and buildings for the purpose of a downtown school. The City also expanded capacity at the nearby Warren Prescott and the popular Eliot School in an effort to accommodate downtown families.

Mayor Menino and City officials have met repeatedly with parents from the Back Bay, West End, North End, Waterfront, Beacon Hill and parts of Charlestown, as well as representatives from Hill House on Beacon Hill, the West End Parent Group, the Beacon Hill Civic Association, the North End Waterfront Mothers Association, and the Downtown North Association.