It’s a deal: Cambridge school moving to St. William’s site; Cristo Rey Boston will open next September

Ending months of negotiations, a deal is set for North Cambridge Catholic High School to move into the former St. William’s Grammar School on Savin Hill Ave. next September.

Seeking a larger space amid high interest from parents of prospective students, high school officials have been attempting to hammer out an arrangement with the archdiocese of Boston and local church officials since early this year.

Under an agreement signed by officials from the school, the archdiocese, and St. William’s parish, which owns the school property, the building will be sold to the Cambridge high school for $1.2 million, with an additional $300,000 coming as the 260-student institution hits certain enrollment quotas. The building has been largely dormant, used for storage space, since the former St. William’s school closed two years ago.

The deal also includes yearly set-aside seats for 25 students of limited income from local parishes. The median family income at the school is $34,869.

North Cambridge Catholic is a member of the national Cristo Rey Network of Catholic preparatory high schools that serves low-income students. The school, which is seeking to expand to 400 students, will be re-named Cristo Rey Boston when it moves to Dorchester next September.

“We can think of no better Christmas present than this,” said Jeff Thielman, president of the high school.

“I think it’s a win-win-win for everybody involved,” said Thomas P. O’Neill III, president of the high school’s board of trustees and a former lieutenant governor. O’Neill, the son of “Tip O’Neill,” the former longtime speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, is a high-powered lobbyist and an alumnus of the school.

“I just think a school of this magnitude and the model and the importance of it, in a justifiable sense, had a lot of work to do to market itself to a new neighborhood,” O’Neill said. “I think it was just a normal process.” He added: “It’s the next important stage for North Cambridge Catholic to become a more pronounced school.”
The Reporter first reported on the possibility of a sale in September. A deal appeared to be imminent, but fell apart at the last moment before talks were re-started.

One recent hold-up has been concerns over how other Catholic schools in Dorchester would be affected by the high school’s move. “Cristo Rey has actually improved enrollment in other schools,” said Rev. Jack Ahern, whose pastorship includes the former St. William’s congregation.

“I think it’ll be a great use for the community and a great use for the neighborhood,” said state Rep. Marty Walsh, who lives down the street from the school. “Their reputation is very, very solid. It’s going to give some kids an opportunity here to earn a good education.”
State Sen. Jack Hart (D-South Boston) called the high school a “magnificent piece for the people of Boston. One of things lacking in the city of Boston is a Catholic secondary school…I think it’s an extraordinary measure to locate the school in Dorchester and perpetuate Catholic education in the city to give these students a choice,” Hart told the Reporter.

The high school has a work-study program, which places students at 70 greater Boston companies, including banks, law firms, and insurance companies. Ninety-six percent of graduates go on to college.
The Savin Hill site has bonuses for them, according to high school officials: it’s around the corner from the Savin Hill MBTA stop while the nearest MBTA station for North Cambridge Catholic, which has been in its current location since 1957, is Davis Square half-mile away.
The Savin Hill location reduces the commute for 70 percent of North Cambridge Catholic students, many of whom are from Dorchester, Mattapan, and Roxbury. According to the high school, it has among its population 120 Latinos, 110 African Americans, 14 Caucasians, 13 multi-racial students, and three Asians.

“It puts us closer to 70 percent of our kids,” Thielman said. “It’s a site on the Red Line. It needs some work but it’s in good shape.”
Added Ahern: “The school is in pretty good shape, but they have to put in science labs and computer labs.” The school will also develop an art room, upgrade the cafeteria and several classrooms, and create office space. 

The move was announced to the high school’s students yesterday, the last day of classes before the Christmas break. Officials said the school will continue to serve and recruit students from Cambridge, Chelsea, Medford, and Somerville, among other communities.

School officials visited the site on Monday with an architect, who will draw up designs and price estimates for upgrades, with fund-raising expected to help pay for the planned renovations.

Current students will be taken to see the school in January after which an open house will be held for parents and students. That is tentatively planned for Sat., Jan. 23.

In a statement, Cardinal Sean O’Malley said, “We are pleased to welcome Cristo Rey Boston to Dorchester. This well-established model of Catholic education provides significant opportunities to students who have both the desire and the dedication to make the commitment to a rigorous academic program and work study assignments, where they develop practical and valuable business experience. We pray for the success of this new school and extend our sincere gratitude to the Blessed Mother Teresa parish community for working with the archdiocese and North Cambridge Catholic to make this move possible.”