Like all news in the wonderful Wellington-Harrington (WeHa) neighborhood, it comes first as rumor and then as fact. The rumor was the King Open School was gearing up for a renovation and during the process we would lose, for four years, our much beloved Valente Branch of the Cambridge Public Library and the Gold Star Pool. All true, except the actual timeline cannot yet be determined.

The first community meeting and step one of the feasibility study, was held January 8, 2015 in the King Open School auditorium. The meeting was well attended considering the frigid temperatures, and the crowd was a mixed balance of city and school leaders, parents and teachers of the King Open School, and residents of the neighborhood.

Deputy City Manager Lisa Peterson who hosted the meeting referred to the upcoming renovation as “a tremendous project.” City Manager Richard Rossi who grew up on Berkshire Street stated that when he lived in the neighborhood, “There was no school, no process, no community engagement. One day a building just went up.”

Tremendous it will indeed be, because the thinking is that a building or maybe more will come down. The plan is to demolish the old Harrington, now King Open and Cambridge Street Upper School, and possibly the Valente and Gold Star Pool buildings.

The attendees had reservations about the project, but were excited considering the team chosen to design the new complex. William Rawn Associates, Architects, Inc. will be in charge of the renovations. Their most notable project in Cambridge is the Main Branch of the Cambridge Public Library, which boasts 22 awards. William Rawn Associates will be working in association with Arrowstreet, Inc., an architecture and design firm whose resume consists of designing modern public schools across Massachusetts and the United States.

The “community listening session” was well managed and is the first of four scheduled as part of the feasibility study. A representative from Rawn Associates stated that the architects “believe in listening, before starting design work.”

The project schedule is:
Feasibility: Winter – Spring 2015
Design: Summer 2015 – Winter 2016
Construction: Spring 2017 – Summer 2019

The project has six components with a goal of building a Net-Zero Energy Building (the energy used annually is equal to the amount of renewable created on site).
1) King Open School
2) Cambridge Street Upper School
3) Human Services: Space for Pre-School & After School Programs
4) Valente Branch Library
5) Gold Star Pool
6) Cambridge Public Schools (CPS) Administration Offices

The main concern for residents is the possible addition of CPS administration offices. This element of the project is not a definite, but Peterson stated that the administration offices would be less than 8 percent of the overall square footage of the project. Several people expressed the desire that all open space remains and although they would not like a tall building, if the CPS administration offices are included, a taller building would be preferable to the loss of open space.

Other concerns for residents were:
1) Parking (would prefer underground parking)
2) Rodent control during construction
3) The pool and Valente must remain open during the summer
4) The time length of the project
5) Added density in the neighborhood with CPS administration offices
6) Not to lose the tall shade trees on Cambridge street
7) Not to lose the wide sidewalks

Concerns for King Open parents:
1) If the project takes too long it may cause a low enrollment
2) Maintaining the strong sense of community that was built over time
3) Creating a spacious environment to incorporate two schools within one
4) Retaining the cultural artwork
5) Creating a safe building with a sense of openness (We want to be open, but safe)
6) A desire that the architects take the time to learn how learning happens at King Open and somehow incorporate the social justice values of the school

Questions, comments and concerns can be directed to Chris Neil, Community Relations Manager at
The project website: