• Ivy Street School
  • Adult Disability Services
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MAB Community Services Opposes Plan to Build New School Behind Ivy Street School

Ivy Street School students and staff work in the garden in the disputed space behind the school

On December 3rd, 2015, MAB Community Services CEO Barbara Salisbury testified at a Town of Brookline Hearing, stating our organization's opposition to a proposed plan to build an elementary school on what is now the backyard of the Ivy Street School. Learn more about this meeting and the issue at hand in this article from the Boston Globe, in which Salisbury is quoted.

Below is the text of Barbara Salisbury's testimony:

Summary

I am Barbara Salisbury, the Chief Executive Officer of MAB Community Services and I’m speaking before you today on behalf of MAB’s board of Trustees. I am joined by Jeff Mullan, of Foley Hoag, who is representing us on this issue.

We have come to our position after careful consideration of both our mission, and the town's legitimate public interest in accommodating a growing student population. Since we too are in the education business, we understand and are greatly sympathetic to the town's need. However, we have concluded that the proposal to build a new elementary school for a minimum of 550 students and staff in the ivy Street School’s backyard would have a significant harmful effect on our operations and therefore oppose it. The proposed use for the site is far too dense to be compatible with the operation of the Ivy Street School, which serves adolescents and young adults with brain injury, autism spectrum disorders, and behavioral health challenges.

The Big Picture of MAB in the Cottage Farm Neighborhood

MAB was founded in 1903, the first social service agency in the country for blind and visually impaired adults. Today MAB Community Service is the umbrella for three major Divisions, and provides services for the blind and those with cognitive disabilities, brain injuries and other mental health concerns.

In 1976, the Joseph P Kennedy Foundation bought a large home at the intersection of Ivy Street and Cottage Farm Road, a peaceful yet urban location, to serve as a headquarters for MAB and a haven to deinstitutionalize people with developmental disabilities and return them to a community setting. That was the beginning of MAB’s ongoing 40-year history in Cottage Farm.

MAB’s Cottage Farm facility still serves as the organization’s headquarters and also houses its Ivy Street School, a nationally renowned residential and day facility for adolescents and young adults with brain injury, autism spectrum disorders and behavioral health challenges. The school currently has 41 students, 23 in residence and 18 commuters. The school serves an important need, as its enrollment has doubled in the past four years, from 3 classrooms to 6, and we have a long waiting list. Although strong leadership and excellent programs have been key to this growth, the physical facility, setting and locations have also been extremely important to this mission.

The facility is in a dense urban area but with a bucolic country feel, surrounded by parks and conservation land and with land of its own for use by its residents, staff and for possible future growth. We believe this environment is an important part of the student’s therapeutic experience. Because MAB has recognized the unique nature of its facility and location, it has strived to maintain and improve it. Yesterday we celebrated the opening of a new library and solarium.

Negative Impacts

MAB’s Board of Directors considered a number of negative impacts if an elementary school was located so close to the Ivy Street building:

  • Damage to our campus: Families whose children attend our school know their children have access to the amenities and services of a city, but nevertheless are in a peaceful setting. This is an important point of differentiation for the Ivy Street School and would be lost if a large urban school were erected next door.
  • Loss of outdoor space for students: The Ivy Street School is at full current capacity. Our students have always had the use of our outdoor campus. Students participate in many outdoor activities in a sheltered private non-threatening area. Outdoor activities are valuable for the behavioral management of students and for their well-being.
  • Loss of opportunity for our own expansion: Our land gives us options for future expansion, most immediately including the option to use a quarter-acre of our property to expand our transition programs and build supported housing for young adults who lose state services when they turn 22.
  • Loss of the use of our property for administrative staff: Our property currently is used by our employees for parking and other uses.
  • Addition of an extremely active facility in a quiet area: The proposal would a large facility to MAB’s backyard. The proposal to include a playground at the MAB property line will be a continually active, noisy distraction to MAB students and staff. This would be particularly problematic to some of our brain-injured or autistic students most sensitive to noise, and could force us in the future to not accept such students to the facility. Compounding these various concerns is the fact that the new elementary school would be the smallest and densest of the lots in the Brookline system, in some ways almost an experiment in the tight management of students in a small facility. It is not clear how these issues would work out in subsequent years.
  • Addition of evening and weekend activities in a quiet area: Schools in Brookline are hubs of activity. There will be evening plays and meetings, loud picnics and sporting events, weekend fairs. Our residential facility and students will be constantly exposed to this.
  • Damage to student’s educational experience during construction: Students in school during the two or more years of construction will be exposed to loud and continual noise.
  • Increases in car and foot traffic: Amory Street is currently a major commuter route through Brookline. Adding a new school would increase congestion significantly, both on Amory Street and many adjacent feeder streets throughout the neighborhood. This traffic pressure would be particularly acute during the morning commute and mid-day school pickup. This would create a chaotic environment for our school busses who transport our commuter students, our staff who drive to work, our students who walk in the neighborhoods and our eight students who walk from a two-family home on Dummer Street to school each morning.
  • Potential significant damage to a major MAB asset: if at some point in the future MAB should decide to sell its facility (perhaps because proximity to a high-use, large dense school makes continued occupancy untenable), the value of MAB’s remaining land might be significantly diminished by the presence of a school and school playground immediately next door.
  • Potential negative impacts on tolerance toward MAB within the Town due to general increase in density and institutional use pressures in the Cottage Farm neighborhood: it should be noted that this area already has another elementary school as well as the Ivy Street School, itself.
  • Potential for bigger issues: Although the initial proposal is for a school of at least 500 children, it is well-known that the Brookline school-age population is growing substantially. In many conversations it has been acknowledged that the school could be substantially bigger, with perhaps 900 students. This would exacerbate many of the concerns listed above. Equally, it could lead the school board to active consideration of other takings – land adjacent to us, which has already been mentioned, and potentially more of our land as well.

In Summary

In summary, we deeply sympathize with the committee’s urgent need to site a ninth elementary school. We have great respect for the committee members and high regard for the process they’ve put in place to site a new school. We wish we could be more accommodating as it would be an opportunity to partner more with the town. But the MAB Board has determined that the proposal to build a new elementary school in the Ivy Street School’s backyard would have a significant harmful effect on our students, on our operations and, potentially, on our future. We therefore oppose it.

Contact Us

MAB Community Services
200 Ivy Street
Brookline, MA 02446
  • P 617-738-5110
  • F 617-738-1247

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