UMass Boston, city will swap historic building for scholarships

The Boston Water and Sewer Commission will transfer ownership of the Calf Pasture Pump Station on Columbia Point to UMass Boston in exchange for $2.1 million over 15 years in scholarships to Boston Public School students, under an agreement announced Tuesday.

The new program, dubbed “Boston City Scholarships,” will provide to Boston Public School graduates with a 3.0 grade point average (GPA) scholarship grants of $1,000, which can be used for tuition, fees, or other costs.

Seventy incoming freshmen will likely receive the scholarship in 2012. According to UMass, the university will keep the scholarship going for three years for students who are enrolled full-time and maintain a 3.0 GPA.

In exchange for setting up the scholarship program, the city’s sewer commission will handing over to the university the calf pasture parcel, located at the end of Mt. Vernon St. behind UMass Boston and down the road from the JFK Presidential Library. The nine-acre parcel includes a castle-like pumping station that was built in 1883 and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

University officials are considering various uses for the property as structural and environmental assessments of the parcel get underway. Previous attempts at a transfer between the commission and the university date back to 1999.

University officials said one possible use for the property would be temporarily moving the campus’s public safety department onto the parcel, since that department’s current office in the Quinn Administration building will be demolished and made into an entryway for the new science building now under construction.

“It gives us more space to swing things, whether it’s public safety or whatever it is, while we continue to build on the campus,” UMass Boston Chancellor Keith Motley said. “We just obtained it, so we didn’t want to do any real planning until it was actually ours.”

Vice Chancellor Ellen O’Connor said campus police officers could be housed in “modular structures” in the open area abutting the pumping station, in a situation that could last four to five years. She said the parcel’s ground cannot be used to grow vegetables or for a playground, but it is otherwise “available for alternate use,” based on a Department of Environmental Protection report from the 1990s. An accidental release of contaminants during that time forced the sewer commission to clean up the property per DEP requirements.

UMass had previously expressed interest in the parcel as a science or technology building, but a previous deal involving scholarships fell through years ago.

Back then, the swap included allowing BWSC to set up a “materials handling facility” abutting Boston College High School’s playing fields. But the deal fell apart after outcry from a number of quarters, including local elected officials and neighborhood activists.

The water and sewer commission moved out of the calf pasture property in 2010 and into a facility in Charlestown.

The agreement was announced at the John D. O’Bryant High School in Roxbury, with Mayor Thomas Menino, Superintendent Carol Johnson, and BWSC officials in attendance.

“It’s just the bureaucracy,” Menino said when asked about the length of time the exchange was held up. “You have to just say, ‘Let’s get it done. Stop all of this legalistic nonsense. It’s good for the kids, let’s figure it out, let’s make it happen.’ That’s how we came to the end, to the conclusion. I said, ‘Enough’s enough. No more negotiations, no more lawyers, let’s put it down on paper and get the kids the money.’ ”

Going to college can be a “huge hurdle,” Johnson told the students who gathered in the O’Bryant School’s science auditorium. “We want to make sure that hurdle is knocked down.”

Several O’Bryant School seniors from Dorchester were at the press conference and are considered eligible for the scholarship, including Kathy Nguyen, Ngoc Nguyen, and Felixaura Pena.

David MacKenzie, a former vice chancellor of administration and finance, who had worked on transferring the parcel to UMass over a decade ago, was also in the audience.

“He probably thought the conversation went away,” Motley quipped. “He was shocked when we invited him.”

The memorandum of agreement between the university and the commission was signed in November. The agreement says the commission will be responsible for liabilities associated with the land prior to 2006, while the university will be responsible for liabilities after that year.

More information about the agreement is available at www.umb.edu/boston_city_scholarship.