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The Campus High School Urban Renewal Project

by Andrew Hatt, Northeastern University Public History Program


The story of Campus High School Urban Renewal Project begins in 1962 with the Sargent Report, as issued by the Harvard Graduate School of Education concerning the need for a new, campus-style high school that would serve 5,000 Boston students and cover about thirty acres. Over the next few years, the School Committee set out to locate a site that would be suitable for such an ambitious high school, finally deciding on the Madison Park area in 1966. However, the School Committee determined that the school should be on a sixty-acre site, despite the original recommendation found in the Sargent Report. In order to attain such a large tract of land, the Boston Redevelopment Authority advocated the demolishment of existing housing. It was assumed by the Boston Redevelopment Authority that the residents displaced in the Campus High School Urban Renewal Area would simply move away, which ultimately was not the case. In fact, the citizens of Lower Roxbury who had always supported the Campus High Urban Renewal Plan and its proposed high school did so under the assumption that the displaced residents could stay in the Madison Park area. This difference ultimately led to a distinct disconnect between the citizens of Lower Roxbury and the Boston Redevelopment Authority.


Later in 1966, Urban Planning Aid, an advisor group consisting of students and faculty from both the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Harvard, suggested that fifteen acres be set aside in the Campus High Urban Renewal Area for new housing, as a means to accommodate displaced individuals. As a result, the actual Campus High Urban Renewal Area was determined to be a 136-acre site bounded by Ruggles Street, Shawmut Avenue, Eliot Square and the existing New York, Providence and Boston rail line. Additionally, the proposed Innerbelt and the Southwest Expressway would also converge near the project area. At this site, $29.5 million would help construct a high school, new housing, parks and public improvements, as well as a 750-pupil elementary school that would replace four local elementary schools in accordance to the plans of the Boston Redevelopment Authority.Despite the proposed commitment to new housing, the citizens of Lower Roxbury were still uncomfortable being completely reliant on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and as a result, formed the Lower Roxbury Community Corporation.


In 1966, the Lower Roxbury Community Corporation initially functioned as a means to combat the Boston Redevelopment Authority over the issue of displacement. Eventually, the members of the Lower Roxbury Community Corporation would work with the Boston Redevelopment Authority as a way to strive towards building a new community in Lower Roxbury. In agreement with a suggestion from the Public Facilities Committee, the Lower Roxbury Community Corporation supported a thirty-five acre site for the proposed campus-style high school. The conflict between the Lower Roxbury Community Corporation and the Boston Redevelopment Authority came to a head during a three-daylong hearing before the Boston City Council, the result of which was the Lower Roxbury Community Corporation being named the official spokesman for Lower Roxbury with the drafting the of the Memorandum of Understanding.


The power of the Lower Roxbury Community Corporation reached its apex in 1969 when it assumed the role of sponsor-developer for 450 units of housing proposed for the Campus High Urban Renewal Area. Those new housing units would ultimately replace what was demolished in the Campus High Urban Renewal Area and house 160 displaced families.The Lower Roxbury Community Corporation wanted to approach building these new units of housing in four parts, the first being elderly housing in the form of Smith House, as completed in 1973. Haynes House apartments, as completed in the 1974, comprised the second phase. Townhouses, to be completed in 1978 and in the early 1980s respectively, were the last two proposed phases.



Given the power that the Lower Roxbury Community Corporation had by the end of the 1960s, they determined that recreational, commercial and entertainment space should be created within the Campus High Renewal Area in addition to a high school and new housing. John Sharratt was the architect chosen by the Lower Roxbury Community Corporation to construct not only the high school, as designed by Marcel Breuer, but the entire Campus High Urban Renewal Area. Sharratt only added to the lofty goals of the Lower Roxbury Community Corporation however, as he wanted a new high school along Dudley Street, a new elementary school along Shawmut Avenue, as well as new churches. He also wanted a community center constructed next to the high school, 400-600 units of new housing, residential control of the Whittier Street Projects, a strong link between new and existing housing, new or increased social services, community owned stores and entertainment space. Additionally, under the direction of John Sharratt, the Lower Roxbury Community Corporation named Dennis Blackett as the lead developer of Campus High Urban Renewal Project.


The year 1970 however, signified a beginning of transition for both Lower Roxbury and the Lower Roxbury Community Corporation as it became the Project Area Committee for the Campus High Urban Renewal Project. That year it was also determined that a 5,000-pupil high school was not feasible given budget constraints and a 2,500-pupil high school would take its place on the same tract of land. Those same budget issues reared their head again in 1971 when townhouses were determined to be too costly and the construction of two family duplexes would occur instead. Continued land acquisition also began between Ruggles Street, Cabot Street, Sterling Street and Shawmut Avenue in 1971 as well. The Campus High School was originally scheduled to open for the start of the 1973-1974 school year.

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