Yancey’s Mattapan high school clears major hurdle

After more than 20 years, City Councillor Charles Yancey’s proposed state-of-the art high school in Mattapan is within reach after the measure was initially approved at the City Council meeting on Wednesday.

“This was the right thing to do and it’s long overdue,” Yancey told the Reporter after the meeting. “I’m very happy and satisfied.”

Nine members of the council voted against Ways and Means Committee Chair Mark Ciommo’s recommendation to table to loan order until a district-wide study of BPS facilities is conducted, constituting a first reading for Yancey's proposal. Those councillors were Michael Flaherty, Tito Jackson, Timothy McCarthy, Stephen Murphy, Matt O’Malley, Ayanna Pressley, Michelle Wu, Charles Yancey, and Josh Zakim.

Three voted for Ciommo’s recommendation to keep the proposed high school in committee: Councillors Ciommo, Council President Bill Linehan, and Frank Baker.

Wednesday’s majority vote allows the $120 million loan order to be brought to a second vote at the next city council meeting. If the proposal passes the Council, it goes on to Mayor Walsh for his signature or veto. Yancey secured unanimous approval of the high school in 2000, back then for $84 million, only to have then-Mayor Thomas Menino veto the measure.

Ahead of his vote, Baker said while he supports the school, he would like to first see the district-wide facilities master plan as well as stronger support from Mayor Martin Walsh’s administration. The City Council approved the $1.4 million facilities master plan last year. It is currently in its first phase and is expected to take nearly two years to complete, according to Boston Public Schools Superintendent John McDonough, who testified at Yancey’s hearing about the high school on Oct. 9.

Mattapan activist Rita Dottin-Dixon was one of the dozen community members at the meeting who cheered when the vote passed. Afterward, she told the Reporter today’s progress is “a long time coming,” adding many more supporters will turn out at the meeting for the second vote. “A lot of people didn’t know about today.”

In January of this year, Yancey filed a $120 million loan order with the City Council to finance the building of a state-of-the-art high school on the former Boston State Hospital grounds between Harvard and Walk Hill streets in Mattapan. The “21st century school” would accommodate 1,250 students and feature a large library, cafeteria, and gymnasium, green architecture, an Olympic-sized swimming pool, the latest technology, along with zoning for community use. It would also be the first newly built public high school in Boston in roughly a decade.

The Walsh administration has yet to show its cards whether it supports the high school or not, but if Walsh approves the loan order, he will have complete control over when crews break ground on the project, Yancey said. “He can go today or he can wait until the end of his term. He has that flexibility. But I’m going to bug the heck out of him to make sure it’s done sooner rather than later.”

After the hearing, Ciommo approached Yancey, congratulating him on the school’s progress, adding “I’m probably not going to change my vote.” Ciommo said the new school does not take into consideration the district’s overall declining enrollment.

Yancey rebuffed him, adding “I have two weeks to change your mind.”