Boston Rethinks Role of its Public Schools

New master plan addresses long-standing problems with schools, including deferred maintenance and inadequate spaces.   January 17, 2024

By Dan Hounsell, Senior Editor 

Institutional and commercial facilities nationwide continue to grapple with the burden of deferred maintenance, and few organizations face tougher circumstances in this regard than big-city public school districts. Maintenance and engineering managers in these organizations are saddled with dual challenges of old and rapidly deteriorating buildings and taxpayers reluctant to fund upgrades. As a result, many school districts are revisiting the number, size and roles of their facilities. 

Recently, Boston Public Schools (BPS) officials shared their long-awaited master plan for its school facilities, according to WBUR. The plan is presented as an opportunity to address long-standing problems with Boston school facilities, including under-enrolled schools, deferred maintenance and inadequate spaces for working and learning for students and staff. 

Of the 119 school buildings citywide, the report finds that dozens are underutilized, or well-below capacity, after years of sliding enrollment. According to district data, just 18 percent of them are equipped to provide what it calls a high-quality student experience. 

The plan is anchored in an uncontroversial idea: that BPS’s buildings aren’t serving current students, with many missing technology hubs, auditoriums, science labs and art spaces. 

The district has shrunk dramatically since its 1970 peak enrollment of around 96,000 students. Enrollment has continued to slide in the past decade: in 2013, BPS enrolled over 54,000 students, while this fall, the count has dropped below 46,000. 

The plan does not include specific recommendations about the future of each of BPS's 119 school buildings. It serves instead as a procedural framework for how the district will inform families, design solutions and enact them. 

One of the major components, the facilities conditions assessment, was released in mid-October. That assessment scored the district's buildings based on a number of factors, including how many students a building can accommodate, its energy efficiency and whether it meets modern standards of school design. 

Dan Hounsell is senior editor for the facilities market. He has more than 30 years of experience writing about facilities maintenance, engineering and management. 


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