No deal on Bowdoin Community Center

Well over five years of work, planning and hope found a dead end last month when a consultant advised that it would not be feasible for the Bird Community Center in Uphams Corner to operate a second center at 191-195 Bowdoin St. A meeting this Monday will begin a discussion about what else can be done there.

Bird Street was collaborating with the Dorchester Bay Economic Development Corporation (Dorchester Bay EDC) to turn the Bowdoin Street site into a full-service community center with a gymnasium, a fitness center, classrooms and more. Things began falling apart when Federated Dorchester Neighborhood Houses pulled out of a three-way deal last year. Federated had planned to move the Log School, currently across the street, into the new facility.

Bird Street and Dorchester Bay EDC continued with planning until last month, when a consultant advised Bird Street that it would not be able to double the amount of grants it receives in order to operate the second center, particularly in current economic conditions, said Dorchester Bay EDC director Jeanne DuBois.

"Their feasibility plan stated that Bird [Street] would be in a deficit every year," DuBois said, admitting that the delay in getting the consultant's report was frustrating. "Had they got that two years ago that would have been good to know, but of course the funding climate was different then."

Local activists such as Davida Andelman, who also works for the Bowdoin Street Health Center, shared that frustration.

"It's unfortunate that it took Bird Street all this time to come up with that conclusive of an answer," Andelman said. "This feasibility study was supposed to be done a long time ago."

Another strain on finances would have been a unique plan involving two buildings; one funded by the George Robert White Fund and another from different sources. That plan, though more expensive, was intended to meet the White Fund's requirement of funding only entire buildings.

Dorchester Bay EDC is demolishing the auto-body shop at 195 Bowdoin this week using an EPA grant and state Brownfields Redevelopment funds, and will join a meeting at the Bowdoin Street Health Center on Monday at 6:30 p.m. to start a community process on what else might be built there. The EDC still holds an option to buy the old gas station at 191 Bowdoin next door from the city's Department of Neighborhood Development. DuBois said the developer was still interested in combining the station with the larger auto-body shop site.

"We bought that property to revitalize Bowdoin Street and we're still going to do that," DuBois said.

Her plan is to begin a community process around two sides of the issue, one would be how to work more closely with the Holland Community Center and the St. Peter's Teen Center to meet community needs, and two, to see what remaining needs can be met with something along the lines of a mixed-use building that would include a smaller community space at the 191-195 Bowdoin site.

"We've been at it a long time," she said. "I think we should be proud of having stuck with it and say, 'We tried, now let's move on to something else.'"

Andelman said she wasn't sure which way the meeting would be likely to go.

"I guess there's some people that still want to put pressure on the city to play a role on Bowdoin Street," she said. "Others look to Dorchester Bay."

Andrea Kaiser, director of the Bird Street Community Center, did not return a phone call for comment.