No plan yet for school buildings

The Boston School Department is still trying to figure out what to do with two of its elementary schools in Dorchester, one that is slated for closure this year and another that has been closed for years. Dorchester’s Emily Fifield Elementary School is among the schools slated to close this year and the Lucy Stone Elementary School was shuttered in the 2008-2009 school year.

Deputy Superintendent Michael Goar told city councillors this week that officials were reviewing how to use the buildings. The East Zone Early Learning Center, which is also set for closing, will be used for administrative offices.

Goar’s testimony before the council’s Committee on Economic Development and Planning drew a rebuke from Councillor At-Large John Connolly for its lack of specifics.

Goar said the department is hoping not to sell off any of the buildings off but rather keep them for public use, such as re-vamping them for existing school programs that no longer have room, or for schools similar to charters, like “innovation” or “in-district” charter schools under the control of Boston Public Schools.

Closing the schools is expected to save the city $10 million and cut the number of empty seats across the system to 2,500 from 5,000.

“I couldn’t tell you today which buildings will still be vacant in fall of 2011 or fall of 2012,” Goar said, who did not have specific figures on the cost of keeping the vacant buildings running.

Goar said school managers check the buildings frequently to make sure the grass is clipped and there’s no graffiti or debris outside, or grass clipping. “It’s an asset we want to manage,” he said.

Connolly, who chairs the council’s Education Committee, ripped into Goar, saying that councillors often receive “generalities and ‘I’ll get back to you later’ ” from Boston Public Schools (BPS) officials.

In a brief interview after the Monday hearing, Connolly said that he has had to make three public records requests of the school department in the past six months. He added that he expected to take up the issue of vacant school buildings again during budget hearings later this spring.

“I don’t know how you can have a hearing on vacant school buildings and not bring facts and figures” on the cost of keeping them running, Connolly said.

He said the lack of specifics leads to parents wondering whether they are “getting their money’s worth” out of the school system. “BPS comes over here and plays hide the ball all the time,” he said.

At the hearing, South Boston Councilor Bill Linehan asked Goar to present a “business plan” for the vacant school buildings.

Adam Gaffin of Universal Hub contributed to this report.