Early next month, East End neighborhood residents and city officials will gather at the Cummings Center on Munjoy Hill to try (again) to hammer out the fate of the former Adams School property. It’s likely that much of the discussion will focus on just how much of that property will, in the future, be devoted to the still-vague notion of “community space,” versus affordable housing. (A playground and limited outdoor open space seem to be sure things.)
The draft request for proposals, issued last July by the city’s planning division, specifically outlines housing requirements, calling for a mix of unit sizes for families and individuals, as well as the opportunity for affordable ownership. But the draft RFP leaves the question of “indoor public space” open, saying it “may be provided.” Some local residents — especially those who are concerned with the fate of A Company of Girls, the popular non-profit organization currently housed at the Adams School — say that indoor public space should be required in potential developers' blueprints.
It’s unfortunate to pit two such deserving uses against each other. And it’s important to remember that the lot in question is just 1.5 acres — hardly large enough to accommodate everyone’s interests. Prioritization is in order, and that will be difficult.
The same people who decried gentrification on Munjoy Hill at a Community Development Committee hearing last month (and in turn, would presumably want additional affordable housing on the Hill) are those calling for increased community space in the area (see "Thinking Outside of the Boxy Adams School," by Deirdre Fulton, January 4). They say that because the East End School’s public space is frequently booked by Parks and Recreation programming, and the Cummings Center is rather small, the non-profit community lacks meeting, performance, and class space. Many of them cite the uncertain future of A Company of Girls, a worthy organization to be sure, but one that won’t be guaranteed a spot in the new development even if community space is maintained.
One solution, according to East End councilor Kevin Donoghue, could be to re-evaluate the existing community space on the Hill — namely the Harry E. Cummings Center, located at the corner of Congress and St. Lawrence streets, adjacent to the fire house. Donoghue wonders if that space could be better utilized (currently, the city’s Parks and Recreation department occupies downstairs office space, while the medium-sized open room upstairs hosts lots of events: play groups, Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, private parties). Could the offices be moved, to create more space for classes and programs? Should the room-rental fee be changed to make sure more people or groups have access to the building? The Cummings Center, Donoghue says, “could be an enormous part of our answer.” We may very well need more room for community groups. But the first step is for the city to ensure that it maximizes existing space.
See thephoenix.com/AboutTown for more specific information about the community meeting when it becomes available.