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Alliance position on proposed Baldwin School

For 30 years the mission, of the Brookline GreenSpace Alliance has been the protection and enhancement of Brookline’s open space. We believe strongly that the protection of trees, active and passive playing spaces and even the skyscape are essential to our citizens’ quality of life and a healthy environment.

Land is a community resource held by the Town for all its citizens. Open space in the community benefits young and old, providing recreational opportunity as well as a natural respite from the urban environment. Green space mitigates the heat-island effect.   It also helps with stormwater runoff from intense rainfall events by enabling recharge of ground water. Recognizing such benefits, the Selectmen approved the No Net Loss of Open Space Policy recommended in the 2005-2015 Brookline Comprehensive Plan.

The Town’s Open Space Plan lists a deficit of green space per number of population.  As school enrollment grows and new residences are built, our need for open space only increases.  Additionally, many of our parks and fields are built on wetlands and as such their availability for use is restricted by weather conditions.  Brookline’s public land is very limited in our urban suburb. While we would like to see no diminishing of any open space, we need at least to be extraordinarily attentive to the protection of public land.  As other needs for the community arise, we must purchase private land to respond to those building needs.  With wise purchases, siting may better meet the Town’s needs and building costs might be competitive with building on current Town open space.  In the long-run the real cost to the community by not preserving parks and open space is losing something that cannot be replaced.

The choice of the Baldwin School and its schoolyard and playground for the site of a new school and the paving of green areas of Soule Park for school parking are at odds with these declared Town policies.  A No Net Loss of Open Space policy does not allow parks and open space to be viewed as a “land bank,” to be drawn on whenever need arises.  Instead, parks and open spaces are a vital community resource that affects the quality of life in the Town.

In January 2016, the Selectmen’s Climate Action Committee (SCAC) issued a Memorandum on climate-related issues arising out of the site selection for the 9th Elementary School. While the SCAC acknowledged that the site selection involved many complex issues, it wanted to go on record with the key issues related to climate change. The Memorandum specifically recommended avoiding the use of existing parkland and open space for the development of the new school, minimizing the loss of mature trees, and evaluating the suitability of the building site as the long- term climate change impacts unfold.

While the School Department must find ways to meet the demands of an increasing school-age population, building a larger footprint on school property may be one of its most pragmatic, although imperfect, options.  In the case of a significantly larger new school at the current Baldwin site which will require the loss of dozens of mature trees and substantial changes to the land formation, the School Department is planning to take advantage of a Town park on the adjacent property where significant land on the Soule Park site will be paved over for driveways, drop-off area and parking lots.  Article 97 protection of the historic Soule Park and the vigilance of the Park & Recreation Commission to protect noteworthy park features such as the puddingstone outcropping and the wall designed by Frederick Law Olmsted will somewhat lessen the negative impacts on the Park.  However, reserving use of the Park for school use detracts from its current mixed use (Green Dog, neighborhood park, town-wide recreational space) and represents a loss of access to open space usable for the general public.
Article 97 protection of parkland in Massachusetts requires purchase/procurement of offsetting open space/recreational land to compensate for loss of existing protected parkland.  Acquisition of comparable land, however, can be problematic. 
So we are left with protecting our natural/outdoor recreational assets in the light of other needs.  BGSA stands for wise choices that hurt the environment as little as possible - preservation of large swaths of land that provide for natural habitat, net zero energy buildings, removal of as few healthy mature trees as possible and a vigorous replanting program, minimizing the use of artificial surfaces, encouraging walkability and accessible neighborhood parks, no net loss of open space.

The creation of a new school is a major investment for the Town. The site chosen should not violate policies adopted for the long-range health of Brookline.  Proper analysis, investment, and creativity including such things as looking at all parking alternatives, will best meet the Town’s needs.  Building on green space without regard to the environment and the recreational needs of citizens young and old is not the kind of problem-solving to which an intelligent community turns.  Protecting our green spaces is vital to the health of the Town.