Capture1A coming wave of school construction and renovation presents Boston with a new opportunity to create equitable development in our neighborhoods.  The idea of building new schools may seem a bit foreign to Bostonians.  Since 1960 the city’s population has steadily declined, resulting in school closings.  Starting in 2000, Boston’s population began rising, and now another 91,000 people are anticipated by 2030, creating demand for new schools as well as major renovations of our older schools.  Already, a new high school is proposed in Mattapan, and in Roxbury the Dearborn Middle School is scheduled for a complete renovation, or possibly new construction.  The Conservatory Lab School proposes to build a new K1-8 school in Roxbury at our Bartlett Place site.

Like the reality of school construction, the possibility of school development as a neighborhood economic development opportunity may be relatively new to Boston. However, there is a wealth of research on school development’s positive economic impacts on neighborhoods.  The major community economic development benefits connected to school construction and operations are stimulation of local retail development, improved neighborhood quality of life, jobs, construction contracting and local purchasing by schools.


Capture2Neighborhood revitalization through mixed-use and shared-facilities.  Studies show that school construction in distressed areas spurs nearby retail development, attracts new residents and increases property values.  The most powerful commercial impact occurs when schools are developed as part of a broader revitalization project.  Locating a school with community facilities in a mixed-use “shared-facility” building can have additional positive neighborhood impacts.  One study concluded that “facilities that are small, local and community-oriented can have a particularly positive effect on local development, especially in economically distressed areas.”  For example, in Pomona, California, one new school shared a site with a Kinko’s and a drug store, bringing two new retail businesses to the community.  In the Tenderloin district of San Francisco, one new school building also houses a dental clinic, a family counseling center, adult ed classes and a community garden.  New York City’s Education Construction Fund has for decades promoted mixed-use real estate projects featuring new school facilities in order to promote neighborhood development.  Historically this fund has built 18,000 school seats, 4,500 units of housing and 1.2 million SF of office space.

Capture4-1stAfter-hours use of a school facility is a special form of co-locating different uses that can be targeted toward specific neighborhood development outcomes.  For example, placing job training and vocational ed in a school at night can increase local employment. At Bartlett Place, the entire community could be invited to offer classes at nights and weekends at the Conservatory Lab School to achieve a broad range of economic improvement outcomes.  For example, Nuestra could offer at the school first-time homebuyer classes, our innovation challenge for local entrepreneurs, technology goes home (TGH) computer literacy classes for families, TGH for small business, and credit repair classes, together serving over 200 residents a year.

Schools can buy local.  Schools potentially can direct spending to local businesses for food, recycling, supplies, textbooks, maintenance, cleaning, equipment leasing, equipment repair, landscaping and snow removal.  Each school system has rules making targeted spending challenging, such as qualified bidder status, which must be understood by local businesses and the community.  A key role can be played by a community-based organization that educates local businesses about qualifying, surveys the school’s needs and connects the school with qualified local businesses that can fill those needs.

Dudley Green House via The Food Project

Dudley Green House via The Food Project

An emerging area of local contracting is farm-to-school food purchasing   Local food is being produced by Roxbury’s emerging food economy, led by organizations such as The Food Project, Alternatives for Community Environment, Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative, Madison Park Development Corporation and the Boston Natural Areas Network.

Multipliers from construction: contracting, jobs and local spending.  School construction can stimulate the local economy beyond the cost of construction.  A review of the national research supports the following set of multipliers per $1 million in school construction.

School construction multipliers per $1 million

direct investment $1,000,000
subcontractors’ purchases $251,721
worker spending $439,528
state taxes $13,333
local taxes $16,111
total economic impact $1,720,693
total multiplier 1.72
FTE jobs 8.7


A special effort is required to make sure that local businesses and workers benefit from school construction.  Fortunately, in Boston policies are in place to ensure that local businesses and workers have a large share.  Regarding direct investment, the city of Boston requires 35% of contracts in city-supported projects to be awarded to minority business enterprises (MBEs) and 5% to women business enterprises (WBEs). In Roxbury, publicly-supported projects are asked to award 50% of contracts to MBEs and 15% to WBEs.  So in Roxbury, for each $1 million in contracting spending, up to $500,000 could be awarded to MBEs, many of whom are locally-based and hire local workers.  These MBEs could then spend another $125,600 in purchasing supplies.

Capture4Similarly, the City of Boston in city-supported projects requires 50% of labor hours to be filled by Boston workers, 35% by workers of color and 5% by women workers. In Roxbury, contractors are asked to fill 50% of labor hours with workers of color and 15% with women workers.  So for each $1 million of construction, local workers of color could fill 4.4 jobs (50% of the total created) and could re-circulate their wages by spending up to $219,500 locally.

So for those who ask, “What do schools have to do with economic development?”, we can say, “a lot!”  Mixed-use developments and shared-use school buildings are proven to stimulate local retail, attract new residents and achieve other economic outcomes through targeted after-hours training.  These benefits are on top of the contracts and jobs awarded to local business and workers. With policies in place designed to award these benefits to local residents, as we have in Roxbury, local shared-facility and mixed-use school development could be the most powerful economic development tool available to the community.

To join the conversation about shared-facility/mixed-use school development, follow me @NuestraDavid.


  • Mayor Martin J. Walsh, Housing A Changing City: Boston2030 (October 2014)
  • Jonathan Weis, Public Schools and Economic Development:  What The Research Shows, Knowledge Works Foundation 2004
  • National Association of Realtors and Local Government Commission, “New Schools for Older Neighborhoods” 2002
  • Clifford Pearson, “Educators and Architects are Rethinking Large, Generic Schools that are Separated from Their Community,” Architectural Record 2001
  • Partnerships for Joint Use: Expanding the Use of Public School Infrastructure to Benefit Students and the Community, Center for Cities and Schools, University of California Berkeley September 2010
  • “School Participation in Local Community Economic Development,” Institute for Policy Research, Northwestern University (June 1993)
  • “Strong Schools, Strong Community Economic Impact Analysis”, Hanover Research April 2012
  • Deborah Kane et al, “The Impact of Seven Cents”, Ecotrust 2011 (study of farm to food program in two Oregon city school systems)
  • Michael Laher, “Economic Impacts of Planned School Construction in New Jersey,” Rutgers School of Planning & Public Policy July 2008
  • Beandrea Davis, “New Questions Raised As District’s School construction Plan Gets Rolling,” The Notebook March 2004 (Philadelphia school blog)