Thursday, February 24, 2011

Preserving a Community in Brighton


HBI congratulates the volunteers of the Presentation School Foundation Inc. as they break ground this week on the rehabilitation of the 1929 Our Lady of the Presentation School in Brighton’s Oak Square. A group of Brighton residents, the Foundation has been working for several years to convert the former parochial school into a multi-tenant community center that will house year-round, full-day programs for children, families, recent immigrants and the diverse Allston-Brighton community.

The Our Lady of the Presentation School is a landmark that visually defines Oak Square in Brighton. It is significant for its association with Irish immigration and the growth of the Catholic Church in Boston. With its hipped roof of Spanish clay tiles, it is also a beautiful example of Renaissance Revival-style architecture.

It takes a pretty selfless, caring community to develop and execute on a vision like the Presentation School Community Center. Their work – an incredible list of achievements-– is considerable. This group of volunteers

• purchased the former school from the Boston Catholic Archdiocese;
• recruited St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center, Little Sprouts kindergarten (along with Wheelock College and WGBH) and Creative Workplace Learning to the site. They also carved out space for a Community Center and meeting space for local civic groups;
• raised $3.8 million for construction through grant proposals and fundraisers;
• put together a scope of work, hired a contractor, went to the bank, the City and the State, and arranged financing for the project.

A good idea is certainly an excellent magnet. Mayor Menino and the BRA secured funding contributions from larger development nearby, Mass Development structured tax exempt bond financing for the project, and all the elected officials from Brighton – Senator Tolman, Representatives Honan and Moran, and City Councilor Mark Ciomo -- were strong advocates for this very grassroots campaign. Secretary of State William Galvin even put forward a personal line of credit to the group to help secure the building in the first place.

About 9 months ago, HBI got a phone call from a board member at Wainwright Bank asking if we’d look into this project. The Bank had just approved a loan but the proposed project could not afford to replace the roof’s Spanish tiles, and the replacement windows could not replicate the original 6-over-6 style windows. We wondered if HBI could make a low interest loan to the project or help raise the money. In the course of conversations with Foundation board members Jim Prince and Kevin Caragee, we discovered that the Foundation hadn’t pursued Massachusetts Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credits, something that could cover 20% of qualified costs related to building rehabilitation.

HBI convened meetings of the School representatives, their contractor, and Albert Rex of MacRostie Historic Advisors in Boston. Albert’s team provided pro bono support for the tax credit application and will syndicate the tax credits. HBI also coordinated the mandatory support from state and local preservation organizations. Thanks to Secretary of State William Galvin and the Massachusetts Historical Commission, the Presentation School Community Center received a full allocation of State Historic Tax Credits – $1 million -- enough to close the critical gap in the project and incentive enough to keep the character-defining features of the historic school.

The Presentation School Foundation’s accomplishments are inspiration to us. A lot of things are possible when everyone pitches in on a great idea.

Read more about the Presentation School Foundation’s grassroots efforts in this 2010 Boston Globe Op-Ed piece and in this 2007 article from the Allston-Brighton Tab.

2 comments:

  1. What a good story about community commitment and how preservation can support it.

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  2. We agree! Thanks so much for the comment. We hope to post similar stories in the future.

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