Charter school wants to buy T lot in Mattapan Square and move there

MBTA Lot: Roughly two dozen vehicles were parked in the T’s Mattapan lot early Monday afternoon. 	Lauren Dezenski photoMBTA Lot: Roughly two dozen vehicles were parked in the T’s Mattapan lot early Monday afternoon. Lauren Dezenski photo

A Hyde Park-based charter school is in talks to buy an MBTA parking lot in Mattapan Square and build a new school next to the T trolley and bus station along River Street. While the $1.5 million sale to Boston Preparatory Charter Public School, if executed, would fill the space at an often half-empty parking lot with a new building, it would also squelch earlier hopes for using the state-owned land as the anchor for a mixed-use, transit-oriented development – something that state lawmakers say should remain the top priority for the site.

The 1.75-acre parcel on River Street has been the focus of previous, unsuccessful efforts by the MBTA to find private partners who would buy or lease the property for redevelopment. In 2007, the T used an agent to issue a Request for Proposals (RFP), which yielded interest from just one – a community development corporation. But that proposal fell through when the real estate market took a nose dive in 2008. A second RFP was issued in 2012, but no bids were received.

MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo said this week that the charter school approached the MBTA last year “to express interest in the property.”

“The school’s plans for the site have been thoroughly examined by MBTA personnel,” said Pesaturo. “The school building will not have an adverse impact on the flow of MBTA buses in and out of Mattapan Station. Today, no more than two dozen motor vehicles are parked at Mattapan Station on a daily basis. Under the agreement with the school, at least forty parking spaces will be available for MBTA commuters.”

Pesaturo said that once a purchase and sales agreement is executed, the school would have nine months – or until April 30, 2015 – to “obtain the permits necessary to move forward with the project. The permitting process will include community meetings on the school’s plans for the site,” he added.

The Boston Preparatory Charter Public School is now located at 1286 Hyde Park Ave. Founded in 2004, the school serves 350 students in grades six through twelve with 35 percent of the student body hailing from Dorchester and 10 percent from Mattapan. The school bills itself as a safe and strict environment with an emphasis on preparing each of the students to complete a four-year college. It follows an aggressive 190-day schedule, with an eight-and-a-half hour school day, and mandatory Saturday sessions for students who are struggling.

Head of School Sharon Liszanckie said that the Mattapan site is attractive because of its proximity to the T and the overall communities it serves. “Being close to mass transit makes it very accessible for students and their families. It’s also in an area of the city that our students have come from, do come from, and will continue to be from.”

Liszanckie maintained that because the deal for the land is not yet complete, important steps such as community outreach and extensive design planning have not yet begun. “If the negotiations are completed, it is our desire to really engage with the community and obtain residents’ input in anything that would occur there.”

The Boston Prep Charter School would be one of four incoming charter schools to the area, according to state Sen. Linda Dorcena Forry.

“There are concerns by the community regarding this big piece of real estate in terms of potential transit-oriented development. And the real estate market has changed since the last RFP went out,” Dorcena Forry said. “The community is interested in commercial and residential development.”

Dorcena Forry and state Rep. Daniel Cullinane said they are hopeful the MBTA would consider re-issuing another RFP for the site.
“I believe there would be multiple interested parties if RFP went out today for that land,” Cullinane said.

The T’s Pesaturo said another RFP would be re-issued only if the charter school’s deal falls through and another potential buyer exists. If no potential buyers exist but the deal still falls through, the site will remain as-is,” he said. Groups interested in purchasing the site are “welcome to approach the MBTA at any time,” Pesaturo added.

Dorcena Forry will be meeting with Mayor Martin J. Walsh later this week and said plans to bring up the proposed charter school. Cullinane said he will be meeting with the Boston Redevelopment Authority later this week to “to discuss number of charter schools coming into Mattapan and looking at the potential impact on Mattapan and Dorchester. I want to fully understand what is being proposed and what the status of each project is, “he said. “It’s best to look at the whole area instead of not just one project at a time.”

Reporter editor Bill Forry contributed to this story.