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Once a school, now a cause

Effort to purchase joins many hands

Three years ago, the fate of the former Our Lady of Presentation School was an issue between parents and children at the school on one side, and the Archdiocese of Boston on the other.

These days, the Presentation School Foundation, which just started its capital campaign to buy the closed school building from the archdiocese, boasts a far wider list of supporters.

The foundation's plan to turn the school into a community center with a preschool and after-school programs during the day, and adult education at night, has attracted support far beyond former students and alumni. Last October, the archdiocese agreed to sell the school building to the foundation for $1 million, and the group hopes to raise enough to buy the building this fall. The foundation is also focused on finding an executive director, its first full-time employee, who will be paid largely with a grant from the Boston Foundation.

"I think what spurred our organization was the sense that the neighborhood is at risk," Bob Van Meter , executive director of Allston-Brighton Community Development Corporation, one of a long list of civic groups and businesses, ranging from the YMCA to WGBH to the Allston-Brighton Little League, that are helping the foundation. "The battle to save the school as a community institution seemed to crystallize a lot of the concerns about what the neighborhood as a whole is facing."

"There was a general sense that it's a fragile community, and a community potentially at a tipping point," agreed Kevin Carragee , chairman of the foundation's board of directors. Like many, Carragee had no connection with the school, but joined the foundation because he felt it would help stave off unsettling changes in the neigbhorhood, which he felt are due to rising housing prices, increased transience, and institutional expansion. Beyond that "tipping point," said Carragee, Brighton could become a place "where no one has roots, and there is instead just an army of undergraduate students and an army of young professionals who stay a few years but can't afford to put down roots, even if they want to."

For one volunteer who has put down roots and put in many hours of work with the foundation, the reason for staying in the fight to save Prezzy is simple: It helps make Brighton a nice place to live.

"This is not so much about what happened in the past, it's about an envisioning of what we want for our future," said Liz Breadon , a native of Northern Ireland who came to the United States 12 years ago and lives near the school. "We have a bright future, and we want to make it as good as possible for all of our citizens and all of the residents in the neighborhood."