Roxbury Prep gives up on Belgrade Ave. site

Charter school will look for another location for high school

AFTER YEARS OF acrimonious battle with residents and some elected officials, Roxbury Preparatory Charter School said it is throwing in the towel on its long effort to build a new high school on Belgrade Avenue in Roslindale.

The school, which faced strong opposition from some abutters and was frustrated by what it said was foot dragging in reviewing the project by the Boston Planning and Development Agency, said the pandemic has created other opportunities in the local real estate market that it will now pursue. “After much consideration, Roxbury Prep has decided to step away from the 361 Belgrade Ave site at this time,” the school said in an email to supporters on Monday. “Due to the global pandemic, there have been significant changes in the Boston real estate market, where new, affordable sites are now becoming available. Our team is doing their due diligence and hopes to have information on a new site soon.”

Roxbury Prep’s plans for a high school on the site of a former car dealership drew strong opposition from surrounding neighborhood groups, which said the site was a poor location for a school housing more than 560 students. 

But discussion of traffic patterns and the size of the footprint of the site were overshadowed by questions about the role of race in the development standoff. Roxbury Prep, which operates three middle schools and one high school in Boston, has a student population that is more than 95 percent black and Hispanic, while the Belgrade Avenue area is predominantly white.

Opponents in the area insisted race was not a factor in their stand against a school, but Roxbury Prep leaders and their allies never bought that. 

“If these were white wealthy kids in Newton, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation,” Shradha Patel, the high school’s founder and first principal said late last year as the fight dragged on. 

City Councilor Ricardo Arroyo, whose Hyde Park-based district includes the would-be school site, said opposition of some residents was “rooted in racism.” 

The high school opened in 2015, but has yet to land a permanent home. Its 650 students are currently split between a former Catholic elementary school in Hyde Park, which houses the school’s 9th and 10th grades, and a Roxbury building five miles away that 11th and 12th graders attend.  

The effort to secure city approval to build a new high school on the Roslindale parcel dragged on for four years. In December, the school said it wasn’t abandoning the effort, but would begin to explore other potential sites. With yesterday’s announcement, Roxbury Prep formally ended its quest to build the school on the Belgrade Avenue parcel, which sits adjacent to a MBTA commuter rail stop. 

CommonWealth reported in December that there had been preliminary talk of Roxbury Prep building a high school on a large parcel outside Nubian Square recently acquired by Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology to house a new campus for its two-year college. Neither Roxbury Prep nor a spokeswoman for Benjamin Franklin would comment on Tuesday on whether that site was now the charter school’s main focus.

The Boston Planning and Development Agency, which oversaw the review process for the Roslindale site and would have to approve any plans at the Roxbury parcel, said it would help the school with its search for a building site. 

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Michael Jonas

Executive Editor, CommonWealth

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

“We defer to Roxbury Prep on their decision to step away from the Belgrade Avenue site but are continuing to engage with the school and remain committed to helping them find a permanent home that meets the needs of their community,” said Brian Golden, the agency’s director, in statement. 

Although Roxbury Prep faced fierce opposition from some Roslindale and West Roxbury residents, as well as from a slew of elected officials in the area, the school also claimed support of hundreds of area residents. 

“Stepping away from 361 Belgrade Ave was not an easy decision and we are so thankful to the over 800 Roslindale and West Roxbury residents, and over 2,000 Boston residents, who took action in support of our project, in support of equity, and against what were at times racists claims about our students and our school,” the school said in its email. “Though we are leaving Belgrade, we will never stop fighting for equal opportunities for our scholars.”