Frequently Asked Questions - BuildBPS

Launched in September 2015 by Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh, the Boston School Committee and Boston Public Schools (BPS) Superintendent Tommy Chang, BuildBPS is a process to develop a ten-year Educational and Facilities Master Plan. The plan will provide a strategic framework for aligning BPS construction and renovation projects with the district’s educational priorities. It is designed to guide investments that ensure that every one of the school district’s facilities is equipped for innovative changes taking place in learning and instruction.

A facilities master planning process was among the recommendations presented in 2014 by the Education Working Group of Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s Transition Committee. Mayor Walsh, in partnership with the Boston School Committee and the Boston Public Schools, has made this project become a major initiative of his administration.

BPS is comprised of 132 buildings, totaling more than 11 million square feet. Nearly two-thirds of the school buildings were constructed before World War II, and many of them can no longer support today’s innovative educational approaches. The facility needs for modernization and repair exceed the resources available to address them, so the City and the school district must make difficult decisions every year about how to prioritize competing capital needs. The Facilities Master Plan will provide a long-range roadmap for construction and renovation projects, allowing the City and BPS to be more proactive in planning and financing projects that advance the school district’s goals to improve student achievement.

BuildBPS is led by the City of Boston, the Boston School Committee, and the Boston Public Schools. SMMA (Symmes Maini & McKee Associates) serves as the lead planning and design firm, and Pinck & Co. serves as the project manager.

BuildBPS is governed by a management team comprised of senior officials from the City of Boston and the Boston Public Schools. The team oversees five advisory committees: Community Engagement, Demographics, Educational Planning, Facilities Assessment, and Finance. The advisory committees include representatives from the Mayor’s Office and other City departments, BPS central offices, principals, teachers, parents, students, community members, and expert consultants in particular fields. The committees have been meeting regularly to collect and analyze data in order to guide the master planning process.

The focus of BuildBPS is to guide capital investment over the next ten years in an equitable way, based on the District’s educational vision for the schools, as well as several sets of new and existing data. In particular, to bring data and vision together, the master planning process is examining the following variables:

● Educational: the district’s plans and priorities for teaching and learning in the years ahead, and the resulting facility and space needs for most effective instruction;

● Facilities: the existing condition and uses of BPS buildings, as well as their ability to house various educational programs;

● Demographics: current and projected school-aged populations in the City of Boston by neighborhood, program, and other factors;

● Finances: analysis of long-term costs for building maintenance and modernization, as well as the development of new schools, and funding strategies to finance them; and

● Community Input: perspectives from parents, students, staff, and other stakeholders about the present and future of teaching and learning and of Boston’s educational facilities.

Between January and June 2016, teams conducted individual site visits to all 128 schools. Comprised of engineers, architects, educational planners, and BPS staff, the teams examined both the physical condition of each facility and the appropriateness of its current educational use -- i.e., Is the building conducive to the educational programs offered within? The assessments do not include any review of academic outcomes or other performance data. The teams used a comprehensive evaluation tool to compile information about each school’s classrooms, offices, cafeterias, auditoriums, gymnasiums, bathrooms, and other spaces, considering factors such as heating and ventilation, air quality, windows, roofs, lighting, security, traffic flow, and the availability of spaces for various educational programs and support services.

The assessments have confirmed that building structures and enclosures are generally sound, but the facilities needs are extensive due to the overall condition and age of the buildings. Many schools are overdue for systems upgrades (e.g., heating, plumbing, and ventilation). Smaller buildings in particular, especially at the K-8 levels, have uneven distribution of spaces such as cafeterias and auditoriums. Many schools cite a lack of appropriate spaces for critical educational needs, particularly student support services. Superintendent Chang has cited these gaps as examples of a lack of equity across the school district. BuildBPS is designed to help eliminate many of these disparities.

The Facilities Master Plan will include an inventory of nearby facilities that are available for school and community use, such as community centers, libraries, athletic fields and facilities, and Boys & Girls Clubs.

The guiding document for the aspirations of the Facilities Master Plan will be the Superintendent’s Educational Vision statement. This document will offer guidance for educational programming and space use that the district will expect schools to take into account when considering how best to support and work closely with partner organizations. The Educational Vision for the project will be circulated as a draft in the fall.

The immediate work to address lead levels in drinking water is being addressed outside the scope of BuildBPS. Longer-term issues will be considered as part of the facilities master plan. For information about drinking water quality in Boston Public Schools, visit

Improving teaching and learning within BPS is one of Superintendent Chang’s core commitments. The Superintendent’s Educational Vision developed based on the work of the Educational Planning Advisory Committee, describes how schools and classrooms must be redesigned to meet the district’s educational needs and priorities.

This question is related to the one above. The definition of requirements for teaching and learning in the Superintendent’s Educational Vision must define the needs of all students, including those with disabilities and English Language Learners. Creating equity is one of the Superintendent’s core goals for the project, and this applies to classrooms as well as to schools.

The Facilities Master Plan is the vehicle for Boston to define how to direct financial resources to capital investment in the schools to create better buildings for teaching and learning. Equipping school buildings with the technology to become better teaching spaces is central to this idea, and the Facilities Master Plan will include proposals not only to renovate bricks and mortar, but also to expand the school system’s technology capacity to teach in more innovative ways and to provide flexibility for the future.

Today, the City pays for capital improvements to BPS schools through its five-year capital investment plan, “Building a Better Boston.” This plan is supported through the issuance of General Obligation Bond debt and Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) awards. These two resources alone will not be enough to cover the vast capital needs of our system, and the City’s borrowing is limited by our future ability to pay off our debt. The Finance Committee is looking at a broad range of funding strategies, including the City’s authority to generate additional revenue, improving the City’s share of MSBA resources, public/private partnerships, and other strategic opportunities to increase revenue potential.

Enrollment has declined by 4.5 percent since 2010, due in part to enrollment loss in grades 5-8. BPS growth is not keeping pace with Boston’s population growth, and charter schools continue to be a significant competitive factor. Specialized programs are scattered around the city, often increasing the need to transport students out of their home neighborhood. The demographers working on the project are continuing to devise enrollment projections, weighing a variety of factors that will influence population shifts.

The Facilities Master Plan will include enrollment projections that account for the full buildout of charter seats under the current cap. Boston is currently subject to a cap in charter school enrollment, not to exceed 18% of net school spending. A statewide ballot initiative in November 2016 that could have lifted the cap in some communities, including Boston, was defeated; however, the number of charter seats will continue to grow in Boston as net school spending increases.

Ultimately, all investments in school and district improvement are designed to strengthen the quality of our educational programs across the city in order to attract and retain families in the public school system. Superintendent Chang has identified several key tenets for maintaining robust enrollment, including:

  • Ensuring quality schools close to home
  • Reducing transitions, improving feeder patterns, and simplifying grade configurations
  • Creating program models that promote equity for all students
  • Increasing capacity for early childhood education<
  • Providing flexibility for future growth

Four of the Advisory Committees -- Educational Vision, Demographics, Facility Assessment and Finance – are focused on defining core aspects of the project. Working with the Design Team, the information these Committees are discussing and reviewing will define different requirements for the Master Plan and provide different frames for reviewing Master Plan proposals. The fifth Committee – Community Engagement – is working directly with BPS’s Office of Engagement to create, participate in and reflect on community engagement efforts for the project. The work of all five groups will be documented in the final Master Plan report.

Extensive participation from a broad range of BPS stakeholders – including parents, students, staff, partners, and residents – is essential to the success of the project. The Community Engagement Advisory Committee developed a series of opportunities for members of the community to offer their opinions on the most effective educational uses of BPS facilities, and to provide feedback on findings and recommendations. Initial steps included a community forum in June 2016 to share preliminary data and observations and to hear questions and concerns from the public. Over the summer, representatives from BuildBPS held Kitchen Table Talks, a series of informal conversations at city parks, festivals, and other locations. In October, a citywide BPS Open House included exhibits and panel discussions about the future of the school district. Additional engagement opportunities will be announced.

The draft assessment for each school will be provided to the School Site Councils for review and comment. This will give school leaders and Site Council members a better understanding of the assessment process, and provide a feedback loop on the assessment data, as well as opportunities to raise concerns and questions about the Master Plan.

The BPS budget has increased by 23.4% ($192 million) since 2010. To help understand and manage escalating costs, the City and BPS launched a Long-Term Financial Planning process to explore both potential cost-saving measures and additional revenue streams. The team’s work includes identifying particular “pressure points” on the annual BPS budget – i.e., the costs that are rising at particularly fast rates – in order to propose strategies for containing those cost increases. An Advisory Committee, which included stakeholders from across the community, released its first report this fall. The group has planned a series of public meetings to gather feedback on the ideas presented in the report.

There are four areas in particular where BPS both spends more than other districts and has experienced the greatest cost increases:

1. Student transportation: BPS spends about 10% of its budget on transportation, and costs in recent years have increased, largely as a result of a new transportation contract, and the increasing need for specialized services for high-need students.

2. Staff salaries: BPS offers competitive salaries for staff members. The National Center for Teacher Quality ranks BPS #1 out of the largest 113 districts for lifetime earnings for teachers, who comprise the majority of the BPS workforce. The cost of salaries and benefits has increased by $107 million since 2010, accounting for more than half of the $192 million increase cited above.

3. Increasing student need: BPS spends a quarter of its budget on special education, which is driven by a large and increasing percentage of students who require special services.

4. “Footprint”: BPS operates a large number of schools, programs and classrooms, relative to other similarly-sized districts, partially due to the high number of small school buildings.

The plan will report on the viability of each school building, based on its age, condition, maintenance and repair needs, appropriateness for educational use, and other factors. Based on the assessments, options will be proposed for the portfolio. The plan will include cost estimates for various types of renovations and repairs. Some buildings identified as the least viable from a physical and educational perspective may be recommended to be taken off-line. That recommendation would apply only to the building itself, and not necessarily to the school operating within the building, which could be relocated to a more suitable facility.

No. If the district identifies a need to close or repurpose some schools in the future it would be part of a comprehensive plan aligned with academic priorities, and would certainly be a much smaller number.

No. There is no list of schools. Dr. Chang has begun to work with all school leaders to explore options for aligning the district’s portfolio of schools with our educational priorities. That work will be informed by the findings and recommendations from the Educational and Facilities Master Plan. Any future proposals to restructure, reconfigure, consolidate, or repurpose school buildings will be brought to the community for input and discussion.

There is no plan to make any immediate changes. Dr. Chang has stated concern that the district currently has schools with 20 different grade configurations, which creates both educational and operational challenges, as well as uncertainty for families. Ultimately, we want to create a system with more coherence and as few transitions as possible for students and families. However, we also know that one size does not fit all. We will continue to study the issue, explore options, and gather input from parents, students, and educators about what makes the most sense for each school and for BPS as a whole.

Mayor Walsh commissioned operational audits of several City departments, including from McKinsey & Company on the Boston Public Schools, in order to identify potential opportunities for improving efficiency. Included in the BPS audit was a broad estimate of the school district’s enrollment capacity, which McKinsey calculated as about 93,000 physical seats. The report also cited “a significant number of underutilized buildings and classrooms, spreading funds thin across the system and lessening the impact of resources on a per pupil basis.”

It’s important to note that there are various ways to calculate capacity. The methodology used in the McKinsey report generated an estimation of “physical capacity”: the number of students each school building can accommodate based on the size of classrooms and approximate class size maxima. This methodology, however, did not account for all the particular grades and programs (for example, English Language Learners) in each school, both of which have specific class limits that dictate the number of students each classroom can accommodate. Therefore, the report does not reflect significant variations in the usable capacity of each classroom based on those factors. For these reasons, the estimate of 93,000 seats will not be used in any way for planning purposes. We are developing more precise methods to estimate capacity. (See below.)

Another approach reports on “instructional capacity.” This figure is the number of students a school can accommodate based on the number of teachers on staff and the class size limits for each grade level and program type. It is important to note that neither physical capacity nor instructional capacity takes into account whether or not a school has sufficient non-classroom space for other uses – e.g., library, gymnasium, auditorium, and spaces for student support services. The most accurate capacity assessment would consider all three of these factors – physical capacity, instructional capacity, and non-classroom spaces. The Facilities Master Plan and related processes are designed to provide a more comprehensive picture of capacity.

The BuildBPS advisory committees will continue to work through the summer, analyzing data and developing recommendations. This fall, SMMA will present a first draft of the plan, which will be available for public review and comment. Throughout the fall, the Community Engagement Committee will host a series of opportunities for families, staff, and others to provide feedback on the draft plan, including the BPS Open House on the weekend of October 29-30.

SMMA later will present a revised plan to the Superintendent and School Committee, and the School Committee will vote on the final plan by the end of December. Implementation of the plan will begin in January 2017. Although the plan will include recommendations for capital investments through 2026, it will be a “working document” subject to modification based on changing needs and availability of resources.

The largest MSBA-approved project currently under construction is the $70 million Dearborn STEM Academy in Roxbury, which is scheduled to open in 2018.

Mayor Walsh recently announced $25.1 million investments to replace windows and doors in seven schools, including $16.4 million in MSBA funds: Young Achievers Science and Math K-8 School (Mattapan); Community Academy of Science and Health (Dorchester); TechBoston Academy (Dorchester); Ellis Elementary School (Roxbury); McKay K-8 School (East Boston); Curley K-8 School (Jamaica Plain) and Sumner Elementary School (Roslindale).

In May 2016, the MSBA invited five additional Boston schools into the Accelerated Repair Program: Boston Latin School (Fenway), Channing Elementary School (Hyde Park), Condon Elementary School (South Boston), Dever Elementary School (Dorchester), and McCormack Middle School (Dorchester). The program provides funding for the repair or replacement of roofs, windows and boilers in schools that are otherwise structurally, functionally and educationally sound.

In advance of BuildBPS, the City of Boston had been, and continues to be collaborating with the MSBA for several years on the Josiah Quincy Upper School (“JQUS”) and Boston Arts Academy (“BAA”). The City is currently working closely within the MSBA process to find the most fiscally responsible and educationally appropriate solution for both schools.

The BAA is in the early stages of the MSBA’s Feasibility Study Phase and has brought on their Owner’s Project Manager (“OPM”) and Designer. During the Feasibility Study, BPS, the City of Boston, and its consultant team collaborate with the MSBA to document their educational program, generate an initial space summary, document existing conditions, establish design parameters, develop and evaluate alternative construction solutions that meet the requirements of the Boston Arts Academy’s educational program.

The JQUS Project is currently in the Schematic Design Phase of the MSBA process. BPS, the City of Boston, and its consultant team are currently exploring the option of constructing a new JQUS at 90 Warren Ave in the South End. This address currently houses the McKinley South End Academy. The solution of a new JQUS at the current McKinley site will move forward ony if a facility that better serves the educational, behavioral and emotional needs of the McKinley student population is identified.

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