The decision whether or not to build a football/softball field on undeveloped land along Morton Street on the former property of Boston State Hospital is heading for another extension.
After nearly two years of discussions and nearly five months of back and forth at State Hospital Community Advisory Committee (CAC) meetings, Brooke Charter School, Lena Park New Boston, and many neighbors and elected officials believed they were finally managed to vote on the case at a CAC meeting last Wednesday.
Instead, Vice Chairman Donn Dingle proposed suspending all voting for an additional month so that the panel could further consider the new information sent to them ahead of the meeting. Votes “next month” had also been promised in previous meetings.
“I’m pleading for tonight,” said state Rep. Russell Holmes. “I think you have enough information to vote tonight. I hope we can do that tonight… They did everything you asked of them.
Dingle replied, “I guess I apologize for taking so long, but if we set a precedent, let it be a serious one.”
This led to a testy exchange between Holmes, Brooke COO Mark Loring, Dingle and several neighbors.
“It’s not the semantics here, Henry James or ‘The Real Thing,'” Dingle said of his stance in favor of another delay.
“I’m flabbergasted,” neighbor Gloria Riley said. “I feel Mr. Dingle has brought us back.”
With that, and time running out of the meeting, the hour-long discussion of the matter was postponed until the next meeting, a scenario the defenders on the pitch said has played out multiple times before.
“Whenever the ACC asked us to do something, we did it with vigor and speed,” Loring said during the meeting. “At this point, we feel like we’ve answered all the questions that were asked… We’re getting to the point where this project is taking us longer than it took to build our entire high school.
The CAC votes on a change of use for the portion of the Lena Park New Boston development on the massive former state hospital site, which has been in the process of disposing of public lands for approximately 30 years. Originally, Lena had been approved to build an urban farm on the site, but that fell out of favor. In 2019, Lena approached Brooke to see if they would like to develop an open space next to her campus on American Legion Highway instead. Desperate for an athletic field, Loring said they began planning to purchase, build and maintain a football/softball field at a cost of around $4 million.
Loring told the reporter that many of the high school’s 500 students would benefit from such an area, as would the entire community. He said that while the land is not being used by Brooke teams, or rented to another school/organization, it is open to anyone in the surrounding neighborhood. Above all, he said, they would like to provide more opportunities for their students and the constant delays made the process confusing and frustrating.
“Our hope is to do it next spring so that our seniors next year can enjoy the prospect of having a home game and a pitch,” he said. “You only get one experience in high school. We now have two years of seniors who have never been able to play a game at home since we started.
In fairness, the process began with concerns expressed by neighbors, including abutments from a nearby development. Aalana Feaster of the Harvard Commons Neighborhood Association (HCNA) pointed out that HCNA voted against the land twice. While she was the only one at last week’s meeting to oppose the proposal, she wasn’t the only one feeling that way, she said.
Loring, however, described the opposition as a ‘singular voice’ who will only be happy if the project fails, while other skeptical neighbors changed their minds after several recent meetings and some adjustments to security and parking (there are no more now) situations .
Annaise Foureau, a neighbor who is also a member of the Boston zoning commission, said many neighbors, including Denise Sonnie, are now supportive of the land. “It is concerning that we have one or a percentage of that number delaying a process that takes years and years and years,” she said. “It serves the children of Mattapan. I hope this finds a solution because it’s getting embarrassing.