Neighbors peeved by style change at St. Margaret's

Father Paul Soper, who delivered a homily describing a new Catholic school system built on a leap, a prayer and millions of dollars Tuesday morning, sat Tuesday evening in a meeting of abutters to St. Margaret's School and his Blessed Mother Teresa Church. He was the only one who openly said he liked how the new gymnasium and cafeteria addition to the school - now half-built - looked from Roseclair Street.

"I like it," he said. "I like how it looks."

No one seconded his bold opinion. Bold because around half of the room, including executive members of the McCormack Civic Association, had just finished taking turns abhorring the brick -called "ground face block" by Suffolk Construction execs, and "cinder block" by others. Critics wanted to know how it happened after the civic group was promised a building and a brick style that would mesh with the turn-of-the-last-century church and school front and back during meetings in February.

"We felt that we were still in the design and development process, so there wasn't a significant change on this," said Mark DiNapoli, Suffolk's vice president, admitting that the changes to the design were made in April, well after the McCormack Civic had supported the project in a letter to the BRA.

The other half of the room, peppered in among the civic members, worked for Suffolk or the Archdiocese, not counting those employed by city and state government.

At one point the tone got so heated that abutter Dan Currie later apologized for creating a prosecutorial atmosphere with a pile of documents and a line of questioning that began at one point, implied one civic member, to sound like a criminal hearing.

On the other hand, the Boston Redevelopment Authority backed Currie's position.

"The permit was not got in the right procedural order," said Prataap Pratose, the BRA's director of Urban Design, a 24-year BRA veteran rarely seen at neighborhood meetings. "That does not mean they're a criminal. They were moving at a fast track. Procedurally the cinder block was not approved by the BRA. What was seen last by the BRA was the brick."

According to Pratose, Suffolk proposed a change to cinder block in April "or so" but never formally submitted it for approval. Now, he said, changing to the heavier old-style brick would require a different support-system and might require a complete tear-down and rebuild of the wall. He suggested that the group give him a week to figure out a few possible options with Suffolk that might be more palatable to the neighborhood. Meanwhile work on the wall in question would be halted.

"Frankly, having talked to a couple of people, it's not as simple as it sounds," he told the group. "I'd like to see what it takes to do it."

"I wish we had you at all our civic meetings," responded e-board member Millie Rooney.

The McCormack's executive board approved the delay, and will meet Tuesday, Sept. 9 at 6:30 in the church to view and discuss the alternatives.