City announces new North End center, unprecedented investments for BCYF network

For years, North End residents seeking Boston Centers for Youth & Families programming have crammed into the aging Nazzaro Community Center, a former community bathhouse where residents squeeze in to tiny rooms and even hallways to obtain social services.

© David L. Ryan/Globe Staff
Mayor Michelle Wu at the Nazzaro Community Center on Friday announcing renovations to the BCYF North End location.

But as soon as 2026, the neighborhood could see a new, state-of-the-art BCYF facility. The city has received $25 million in state funding to partly support the construction of a center next to the BCYF Mirabella Pool, Mayor Michelle Wu announced during a Friday press conference. The city said it will likely fund the remaining roughly $40 million in costs through its capital budget.

Load Error

“While this center has faithfully served our communities for more than 100 years … it’s clear that this … old communal bath house wasn’t built to handle the needs of today’s thriving North End community,” Wu said to more than 50 residents and officials gathered for Friday’s event.

Of the state funding, $5 million will go toward the future of the Nazzaro building, as long as the city commits to designating the site a historic landmark and handing over supervision of the property to a nonprofit, said state Representative Aaron Michlewitz, who spearheaded legislation to secure the funding.

The new community center is part of a broader effort to revitalize the 50-year-old BCYF, a quasi-city agency that has toiled to support a growing city population with scarce resources and a lack of upkeep. Wu said the city must identify resources for its community centers alongside tackling traffic, housing, and other issues in its ongoing response to Boston’s growth.

“Spaces like this are critical infrastructure for our city … so that we can truly be neighborhoods where people live, work, play, get to know each other, and grow together,” Wu said. “Every neighborhood deserves modern, up-to-date spaces that reflect the growing needs of our communities.”

The North End joins a handful of Boston neighborhoods that could see standalone community centers in the next few years. Currently, 15 of BCYF’s community centers are within schools. And all of the BCYF programs in Dorchester, the city’s largest neighborhood, operate within school buildings.

In October, Wu unveiled plans for Dorchester’s first standalone community center in Grove Hall, after years of community activism to fill the void of youth services in the neighborhood.

In Charlestown and Allston-Brighton, residents have met with city officials to determine siting and programming for standalone centers in those neighborhoods. The city aims to release reports with its findings and recommendations for each project later this year.

In addition to new construction, the city has also been working to renovate several of BCYF’s existing centers. Dion Irish, the city’s chief of operations, said in an interview that the city must take a two-pronged approach of building new spaces while maintaining what already exists. For example, he cited overdue investments in BCYF’s maintenance staff, where only three people are responsible for upkeep of the entire network.

“We do a great job of building new things, but we don’t do as good of a job continuing to invest in those things,” Irish said. “So you can expect to see not only announcements about new buildings, but [also] ongoing work just to keep our buildings working the way they should.”

When it reopens this year, the Mattahunt Community Center, located in Mattahunt Elementary School in Mattapan, will include a new lobby, gym, multipurpose room, and teen lounge.

The long-delayed, $31 million renovations to the Curley Community Center in South Boston will include climate-resilient features such as flood barriers, waterproof beachside walls, and raised mechanical systems, and it will offer programming like a dance studio and fitness center, along with designated spaces for seniors, teens, and children. BCYF is preparing for a February or March re-opening.

Morever, $5 million in state funding will go toward the upkeep of BCYF’s 18 pools. Three of the pools — the Mirabella in the North End, the Paris Street Pool in East Boston, and the Marshall Pool in Dorchester — are slated to open with renovations and repairs this summer.

Irish said the city also plans to complete an audit of the conditions at its school centers and standalone facilities later this year.

BCYF Commissioner Marta Rivera said in an interview that the centers have historically responded to building problems in real time. An audit allows them to anticipate crises before they arise, and have the proper infrastructure in place to address those needs, she said.

“Whenever there’s an emergency, or something that’s not functioning properly, we know how much that takes away from being able to serve our community,” Rivera said. “Being able to get ahead of that allows us the space to … better serve our community residents as best as possible.”

José Massó, Boston’s chief of human services, recalled playing basketball and getting his first job as a lifeguard through BCYF. The city’s committed investment, he said, ensures that future residents have access to the same — or even better — spaces that shaped his trajectory.

“It’s a really critical time of looking at our public spaces as treasures that deserve our attention and stewardship,” Massó said. “To be able to do so is ensuring that future generations are able to fully utilize this commitment.”

Continue Reading