Top ten stories of 2010

The sands shifted mightily beneath the neighborhoods’ landscape in 2010— with institutional changes that will likely have far-reaching ramifications. The frightening drumbeat of murder and mayhem picked up pace in troubling fashion. And, activists found new voice in a city roiled by budget cuts. Note: Our resident expert Gin Dumcius has the full run down on the year’s top political stories on page 1.

Massacre on Woolson St. on Sept. 28Massacre on Woolson St. on Sept. 28Homicides jump
The September 28 massacre of four people — including a two-year-old toddler— on Mattapan’s Woolson Street was the low-point of a year that saw a substantial hike in the city’s homicide rate— especially in the B-3 police district. Police have charged two men with the four murders — along with the near-fatal shooting of a fifth victim who has defied early predictions and survived his wounds. The drumbeat of shootings has slowed in the waning days of 2010, but the damage has been done. As of Dec. 19, 74 people had been slain in the city, almost double the number from the same time frame in 2009 — 46. Here is the list of people who were killed on the streets of Dorchester and Mattapan in 2010.

Carney sold to for-profit company
The year’s most significant health care story on the local front also cut across multiple categories: real estate, business, employment, religion and— of course— politics. Dorchester’s last remaining hospital— Carney — was sold by the Caritas Christi Health Care system for an estimated $830 million to a for-profit firm, Cerberus Capital Management L.P., whose affiliate, Steward Health Care System LLC, handled the agreement. The deal passed a key hurdle in October when Attorney General Martha Coakley signed off on the proposal that transferred six Catholic hospitals, including Dorchester’s Carney to the New York-based buyers. Coakley stipulated that the hospitals could not be closed or transferred to another entity for at least three years. Proponents claim that the sale will preserve the jobs of the 12,000 Caritas employees and the pensions of 13,000 current and former Caritas employees. It will also create 4,000 new construction jobs and pump millions into new capitol improvements to the physical plant. Caritas officials argued that Carney and St. Elizabeth’s in Brighton would be in particular danger of closing if the deal didn’t go through. Anxieties about the change to a for-profit ownership model persist as the calendar changes, but so too does the hope that a revitalized Carney campus will catch-on as an economic boost for Mattapan and Dorchester.

UMass-Boston buys Bayside
UMass-Boston completed its acquisition of the Bayside Expo Center last spring for $18.7 million. The Bayside property comprises 275,000 square feet of exhibition space and parking on 20 acres of land. UMass officials pointed to the need to acquire the Bayside site to help facilitate the campus’s 25-year capital plan, which includes $500 million in on-campus construction of new and renovated facilities. Once a thriving venue with big-ticket draws like the New England Flower Show, the waterfront property unexpectedly changed hands in 2009 after its longtime owner and operator, Corcoran Jennison Companies, lost the property at a foreclosure auction. UMass-Boston Chancellor Keith Motley said the purchase is part of a “new phase” for the campus. “Here is an opportunity to really engage with people from all segments of the community to think about how that property can be used to benefit the community, the city, and the work of the university,” Motley said in May. “It presents to us a moment in which the physical boundaries of the campus need not confine our thinking or acting in this regard.”

Public Schools closed, merged
A controversial plan to shutter nine schools, including Dorchester’s Fifield Elementary School, East Zone Early Learning Center and Middle School Academy, was approved in December after an agonizing process that frequently put BPS Superintendent Carol Johnson in conflict with allies and foes alike. Johnson’s final plan — aimed at slashing into an estimated $63 million budget deficit next year— also merges Lee Academy Pilot School with Lee Elementary School, which share the same building. Clap Elementary School, originally slated for closure, instead will be converted into an “innovation school,” operating similarly to a charter school and providing more administrative flexibility. More closures are anticipated in the new year.

Library Standoff: Pro-library advocates Nicole Manny and her daughter SylvieLibrary Standoff: Pro-library advocates Nicole Manny and her daughter SylvieLibrary backers fight back on closure threat
A March vote by the BPL board of trustees to shutter Lower Mills branch library and three other branches across the city set off a year-long struggle — featuring lawn signs and petitions— that ended in a big win for library advocates. First, Mayor Tom Menino delayed the closings — set for the fall— and then BPL president Amy Ryan finally pledged to keep the branches open if needed funds comes in from state coffers. One thing seems clear: There’s no longer any question about the importance of these branches in the eyes of local civic leaders and merchants— who led the charge to protect them.

St. Mark’s school closes
The Dorchester Central campus of Pope John Paul II Academy, housed in what was once St. Mark’s Grammar School, closed in June. The school was one of five that collectively made up the Catholic academy in Dorchester.

Officials from the Archdiocese of Boston said that “the economic recession” hurt enrollment at the campus, noting that only 52 percent of its seats were filled in its final year. The pace of fundraising meant to pay for renovations at the campus was also a factor.
Parents and parishioners formed a Facebook group in an attempt to reverse the decision, to no avail.

Dot Ave. project breaks ground
Construction along Dorchester Avenue swung into gear in 2010 as part of a $15 million overhaul of fifteen intersections along the corridor from Peabody Square to South Boston known as “the Dot Ave. Project.” Work started in the spring at Peabody Square and is expected to continue through all of 2011. The reconstructed Dorchester Avenue will feature an interconnected traffic signal control system that will allow city workers to monitor traffic flow and alter the timing of the signals to better facilitate vehicles at different times of the day. The avenue overhaul, in the planning stages for over five years, was finally made possible by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act passed by Congress in 2009.

St. Kevin’s redevelopment
The former St. Kevin’s Parish property in Uphams Corner will be converted into affordable housing for Boston families, the Reporter first told its readers back in March. A partnership of three organizations that includes St. Mary’s Women and Children’s Center, Holy Family Parish, and a nonprofit real estate developer tied to the archdiocese will re-develop the old St. Kevin’s campus on Columbia Rd. The conversion of the St. Kevin’s property “will make a difference that’s profound for families,” Judy Beckler, head of St. Mary’s Women and Children’s Center, told the Reporter. The 2.23-acre Uphams Corner property, which sits on the north side of Columbia Road, was closed in 2008 as the archdiocese moved to create the Pope John Paul II Academy system at other sites in the city. Beckler said the conveyance will “revitalize the footprint at St. Kevin’s.”

Health centers get Fed infusion
If there was a singular bright spot in a year fraught with budget battles and looming closures, it could be found in the halls of Dorchester and Mattapan’s health centers. Three local centers— Mattapan, Codman and Dot House — received a cumulative commitment of $26.5 million in federal stimulus money to help all three build-out their campuses. The result will be a brand new health center in Mattapan Square and new wings for both Dot House and Codman. Meanwhile, Harbor Health Services celebrated an expansion of its own in ’10: the renovated Frank Wood nursing home on Morton Street is now home to its Elder Service Plan.

Haiti on our hearts and minds
The year began with a cataclysmic earthquake in Haiti on Jan. 12 that killed an estimated 250,000 people and brought grief and anxiety to tens of thousands of families in Boston and across Massachusetts. The Boston community rallied with great compassion to the cause, led by a crisis center first staged at the headquarters of SEIU 1199 and, later, at the Mattapan branch library. Boston’s neighborhoods absorbed survivors and sent resources and talented medical staff to help relieve the suffering.

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