Proposed Mass. Eye and Ear Expansion Remains Controversial

February 22, 2011
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By Dan Murphy

The planned expansion of the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary (MEEI) campus remained a controversial topic last week at the second public meeting to vet the proposal.

According to hospital officials, the development would consist of three projects, including a new approximately research facility at 325 Cambridge St. to replace of three outdated buildings at 307-311 Cambridge St. and 313 Cambridge St.; an annex to the John Jeffries House on Charles Street; and the renovation and expansion of the main clinical building at 243 Charles St.

As part of its 10-year vision, the medical facility is also considering other options, including collaborating with Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) to expand the Yawkey Garage beneath the proposed building at 325 Cambridge St., as well building a below-grade garage beneath the parking lots that it leases from the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR).

Other options were studied but deemed unfeasible, such as relocating the entire MEEI campus to Northpoint in Cambridge, vertically extending the building at 243 Charles St., expanding onto additional DCR land and converting the Charles Street Garage for use by MEEI employees only.

The hospital also decided against changing the Jeffries House from its present use as a hotel to office space. “We think of it as an asset to the community as a small hotel and want to keep it that way,” said Rick Kobus, an urban design consultant for the project.

Regarding the proposed Jeffries House annex, architect Ann Beha discussed the sensitivity of building on the historic site, as well as its future relationship with the soon-to-be-reconfigured Longfellow Bridge.

“Essentially, this redesign makes the site more connected to the Esplanade,” Beha said. “It’s about the building, but it’s also very much about landscape.”

Beha said other objectives of the planned annex are to extend the retail edge along Charles Street, and to provide a safe entrance to the Jeffries House on Charles Street.

Beacon Hill resident Peter Thomson said the proposed Jeffries House annex would allow the hospital campus to expand south of Cambridge Street – a move that would violate the terms of an agreement entered into by MEEI, MGH and the Beacon Hill Civic Association (BHCA).

BHCA Chair John Achatz said, “I am very much looking forward to the part of the process when we talk about traffic and parking because these have been problems for decades.”

Meanwhile, Esplanade Association board member Herb Nolan requested that the parking lots that MEEI currently leases from DCR be restored to greenspace in time.

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