Community Residents Speak Against Temporary Emerson Dorms in the Fenway

October 28, 2016
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By Beth Treffeisen

At the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) meeting held on Monday, October 17, at the Morville House, community members came together to voice their concerns about Emerson College reverting a previous hostel at 12 Hemenway St. into a two-year temporary dorm.

“You have to understand, we commend Emerson for doing the dorm work and expanding their capacity – that’s great,” said Richard Giordano from the Fenway Community Development Corporation (Fenway CDC). “We however don’t need to be the solution for the problem that they have.”

Due to the upcoming closure in the spring of 2017, of the Little Building dormitory, located on the corner of Tremont St. and Boylston St., officials at Emerson College are proposing to temporarily lease space for approximately 115 students from fall 2017 through spring 2019 on Hemenway St. that is comprised of 42,868 square feet and includes 56 rooms, a commercial kitchen and a café on the first floor. There are three parking spaces included with the lease that will be used by staff.

The college will manage this property in the same manner as their other residence halls on the main campus. It will also provide 24-hour front desk security coverage that will work with the Emerson College Police Department.

All students living at the campus will be returning and will not have personal cars. A Resident Director, a professional staff member living at this location along with five Resident Assistants that are student staff members, will monitor the students.

“There is not an acceptable reason that we should bear the brunt of the burden that they’re under,” said Giordano who stated it is up to the BPDA to help Emerson find another solution to their problem that is not in the Fenway neighborhood.

The Fenway CDC believes that this is another example of an institution expanding its footprint without regard for community impact. Fenway CDC also believes that after two years as a temporary dorm, the property will become de facto dorm housing unsupervised students.

The Little Building dormitory, a 12-story structure built in 1917 that was originally an office building that was converted to a dormitory and dining hall in 1995 by the college and needs extensive work. It currently holds 750 students.

“That building has to be shut down,” said Peggy Ings the associate vice president to Government and Community Relations at Emerson College. “It has been deemed to need a lot of work on the roof, the façade, and the structure. We have been told that we need to shut down this building down in 2017.”

The restoration that has been approved by the BPDA will renovate floors two through 12 and construct a 13th floor that will be located entirely behind the parapet that juts up from the top floor. This will increase the total residential students at that location by 294.

There is currently construction for another dorm at the Emerson College main campus that is slated to open in Fall 2017, which will house 376 students that otherwise, would have gone into the Little Building. That leaves them 115 beds short for that fall.

Ings said they scoped the area around Emerson College from the Revere Hotel to the HI Boston Hostel located on Stuart St., as possible housing alternatives but ran into problems booking them as a two-year lease.

When the current owners of 12 Hemenway St., approached the college with the opportunity to lease this property out, Ings said, the college wanted to pursue this to see if it could work as their solution.

There will be no construction at the site and once the two-year lease is up, the dorm will be converted back to its use now, a budget friendly lodging site.

Bob Case a 40-year resident of the Fenway neighborhood pointed out that right now there is a two-level neighborhood. On one end are the students and on the other end are the new luxury apartments.

“We are going to end up as a non-residential neighborhood because we are fighting the students and we are fighting the super luxury housing on the other end,” said Case.

Jay Livingstone the state representative who represents both sides of Boylston St. is also opposed to the dorm being placed in this area.

He pointed back to the history of Emerson College and how they moved to their current campus from the Back Bay to remove themselves from a residential neighborhood. By moving back to a residential neighborhood that is already facing pressure from the other colleges and universities in the area, he said, would be a mistake.

Livingstone said, “The problem is, as soon as a dorm is allowed in this building in two years another university, all of which in this city are under this type of pressure are going to be back here asking the same thing.”

The comment period for this project ends November 4, 2016.

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