St. Ann's School to be rehabbed, not torn down

The Neponset Avenue campus that houses St. Ann's Catholic grammar school will be renovated over a two year period beginning this June, officials involved in the construction plans told the Reporter this week. The decision means that students will not be displaced during the reconstruction project, which had initially called for the demolition of the original 1909 schoolhouse and the construction of a brand new academic facility.

Beginning this fall, St. Ann's will serve as one of five campuses of a new, centrally administered school called Pope John Paul II Academy. The academy will replace the neighborhood's existing parish-run grammar school model. The other campuses in the Pope John Paul II system will include the old St. Margaret's school on Columbia Road, St. Gregory's in Lower Mills, St. Angela's on Blue Hill Avenue in Mattapan and St. Mark's on Dorchester Avenue. Each of the campuses will undergo extensive renovations in an estimated $60 million investment through the 2010 Initiative, a committee of church and lay leaders led by Boston businessman Jack Connors.

Paul Ferolito, a senior project manager at Suffolk Construction - which is managing the construction job for the Archdiocese of Boston - said that the improvements to the St. Ann's complex will be done in two phases over the summers of 2008 and 2009. The project will begin with a gut-rehab of the existing school building after the close of school in June. Next summer, a second phase will include the construction of a new level of classrooms above the school's gymnasium, which is housed in a 1934 annex to the original Neponset Avenue school.

"We're planning on renovating the front of the building - the 1909 building - and also adding a new entry way and elevator over this summer. And then the following summer we would put the addition on (to the gymnasium)," said Ferolito.

Last November, when Archdiocesan officials rolled out their announcement of the 2010 consolidation plan, St. Ann's was specifically highlighted. An Archdiocesean press release said that, when completed in 2009, St. Ann's would be "the site of the first newly built Catholic school building in the City of Boston in nearly fifty years."

Since then, a team of engineers and church officials have had second thoughts. In a December interview with the Reporter, Suffolk Construction CEO John Fish - a key member of the 2010 Committee - said that his team was still reviewing the question of whether St. Ann's or St. Mark's on Dorchester Avenue should be re-built from scratch.

"The bones of both of those buildings are very good, but as we finalize the curriculum and the program in each particular building and how that program serves the physical plant, that's what's going to determine what we do," Fish said. "It is the desire of the Cardinal and Jack Connors to build a minimum of one new school in Dorchester. We're pretty sure that's going to happen. There may be a compelling reason why we keep both of those structures in place and renovate them. To the extent that that happens, you won't be able to tell a new building from an old building."

This week, Fish's project manager said that three factors led to the decision to keep the St. Ann's buildings in place. First, the existence of a public footpath on the right side of the Neponset Avenue school building restricted a new footprint in that direction, said Ferolito. On the left side, a sewer easement that runs along a retaining wall presents a similar barrier. Thirdly, a close inspection of the buildings found that "the bones of the school were in very good condition," Ferolito says.

"It just made sense with the two restrictions and the state of the school, it was easy to say that it should be a renovation," Ferolito said. "The whole school will be re-done, with new flooring, new ceilings, mechanical, plumbing and a new elevator."

Ferolito could not say what the cost of the St. Ann's renovation project would be.

Still unclear at this stage is whether St. Mark's grammar school will likewise be renovated or rebuilt from the ground up. Ferolito said that construction at St. Mark's is scheduled to begin in June 2009, but confirmed that "nothing is etched in stone" about the re-use of the building.

Another component of the 2010 plan involves the renovation of the St. Peter's Teen Center on Bowdoin Street. While the St. Peter's parish grammar school will be shuttered at the end of the current academic year, the Archdiocese has committed $4 million into a revamp of the rear building on the St. Peter's campus, which houses a popular after-school program.

"What's happening is we've just received approval to proceed on our schematic design," Ferolito said of the St. Peter's project. "We've developed a program for the building and now we're going into design development.

"The exterior façade and roof are in good condition overall. We do have to tear down the existing fire escape which would no longer be code compliant and install a stair tower," Ferolito said. He estimates that renovation work could begin at St. Peter's by May 1.

Civic group green-lights St. Margaret's construction

Twenty members of the McCormack Civic Association voted Tuesday night to approve the demolition of the Blessed Mother Teresa parish rectory to make room for a cafeteria, gymnasium and performance center. The new facility and the existing schoolhouse that once housed St. Margaret's parish school will make up a new campus of the Pope John Paul II Academy.

"You've got to think about the next generation," said Mike McColgan, an executive board member of the civic association.

The demolition of the Columbia Road rectory is necessary to complete the project, according to Gary Kane, a member of the Suffolk Construction architectural team. "We're very sensitive" to the fact that they're tearing down a building that's long been part of the church, he told civic association members.

Father Paul Soper, the pastor at Blessed Mother Teresa parish, said the rectory was the "only reasonable space" to build the facilities.

Students will only be able to exit and enter through the front of the school, according to Soper.

To meet a September 2008 deadline, construction crews will likely be working on Saturdays and Sundays, after obtaining a variety of permits, including clearance from the Landmark Commission and the city's Zoning Board.

Paul Ferolito, Suffolk's senior project manager, told the Reporter that the new building that will replace the rectory will not likely be complete until January 2009.

-Gintautus Dumcius