‘Happiness Is Our Intention,"" reads a signinside the signature brick walls of what was once Our Lady of thePresentation School in Brighton"s Oak Square. Fresh paint adorns classrooms built in the 1920s. Original woodfloors gleam with refinishing. And an entrance lobby, the only newaddition to the school"s exterior, has been partially builtof blackboards that once helped educate generations of studentsthere. |
Nearly eight years after the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston causeda firestorm by locking out students two days before the K-6 schoolwas scheduled to be closed, a scrappy grass-roots group thattransformed the landmark into a community center is prepping forthe building"s coming-out party. Following a $5.4 million renovation, the Presentation SchoolFoundation Community Center will open to the public next Friday tounveil what once seemed a pipe dream: a neighborhood anchordesigned to serve Brighton and Allston residents from infancy toretirement. "There were moments certainly where we were close toorganizational death,"" said Kevin Carragee, afoundation board member. "One way to describe the volunteersis that they"re a very stubborn group ofpeople."" That stubbornness was forged in the contentious aftermath of thearchdiocese"s decision to close the school. Althoughopposition helped postpone the closing for a year, to June 2005,the archdiocese infuriated parents by canceling the final two daysof classes in 2005 and locking students out, ostensibly to preventits occupation by protesters.
Mayor Thomas M. Menino, who eight years ago assailed the earlyclosing as "reprehensible,"" offered the use ofFaneuil Hall for the sixth-grade graduation. Negotiations with the archdiocese were often difficult over theensuing 16 months, Carragee recalled, but the church"s offerto sell the building for $1 million, instead of the $2 million thefoundation had proposed, helped save the effort. "The Archdiocese is thrilled for the Presentation SchoolFoundation at this wonderful milestone,"" said TerrenceDonilon, an archdiocese spokesman.
"They have workedincredibly hard to accomplish their goal of establishing acommunity center, and we are pleased to have had the privilege towork with them."" Benefactors have included the state, which provided $1.25 millionin historic tax credits; the City of Boston, $501,000; the NewBalance Foundation, $550,000; the Boston Foundation, $200,000; and15 other foundations. Residents and businesses in Brighton andAllston contributed $325,000. "We"re essentially a trustee for the folks who live inthe neighborhood,"" Carragee said. "There is asense of ownership of the building. It was widely believed in theneighborhood that this would have been a condo."" Instead, what has emerged is a meticulously restored and upgradedbuilding that Susan Wobst, the center"s acting executivedirector, said will meet the demands of the present but have theflexibility to adapt.
"This was never about a renovation project; it was aboutbringing programs and services to a neighborhood,""Carragee said. Services include an early education center, which opened inNovember; a Women, Infants, and Children program affiliated withSt. Elizabeth"s Medical Center; meeting space for civicgroups; an after-school program; and immigrant outreach. Bricks have been repointed; a roof that recalls the originalSpanish tile has been laid; and the large front door, once boardedover, has been restored to its stately, original presence. These nods to the past should resonate in the community, whichKatherine Mackland-Rivera, executive director of the Little Sproutsearly-education center, called close-knit, involved, and investedin the center"s success.
"We need to give people reasons to stay, and this is a reasonto stay"" in the neighborhood, Carragee said."Parents who went to the school now have children in thepreschool."" Many of those parents, along with others from the neighborhood,volunteered a "staggering"" number of hours toaid the renovation, Carragee said. Nestled amid the gleaming result will be a reminder of what led tothe Presentation"s new life. On a first-floor wall, in whatwill become a community meeting space, the words"Congratulations to the pre-K children"" willremain in colorful script. That message, preserved since 2005, was meant to cheer the childrenwho were ousted from their school two days early.
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