Mass General Officials Show Public-Realm Improvements

Representatives for Mass General were on hand Monday, June 7, for a city-sponsored virtual meeting to discuss public-realm improvements for the hospital’s planned $1 billion expansion of its Cambridge Street campus.

MGH intends to build a building comprising a pair of connected, 12-story towers that would provide 482 new hospital beds (for a net gain of 94 new beds); additional imaging and lab space, as well as new exam rooms and infusion bays; 971 parking spaces (for a net gain of 191 new spaces) located beneath the development; and 1,043 spots for bikes on the campus (for a net gain of 566 new spaces). Construction is set to begin in the summer of 2022, according to members of the project team.

City Councilor Kenzie Bok, who along with Rep. Jay Livingstone, has been very active in the community process for the hospital’s planned expansion, said public realm is always a big issue when it comes to large development projects like this, and that she has “definitely heard a lot from her Beacon Hill and West End constituents” on the proposal.

Rep. Livingstone added that both he and Councilor Bok have appreciated MGH making adjustments to the proposed project throughout the process in accordance with input from the community, but that the “interaction between the Beacon Hill and West End neighborhood is greatly affecting everyone’s lives.”

Tom Sieniewicz, a partner with the Boston office of the architectural and design firm NBBJ, said the project presents an opportunity to create an approximately 50-by-50-feet public plaza on Cambridge Street at the entrance to the proposed North Anderson Street Arcade, as well as a shaded plaza with removable plantings on the west side of North Grove Street.

Also proposed as part of the project is a head-house for the long-discussed MBTA Red-Blue line connector that would entail the extension of the Blue Line to connect beneath Charles Street to the Red Line’s Charles/MGH station, thereby allowing doctors and nurses to avoid crossing the often-perilous street to reach the hospital.

Another wide opening to the Bulfinch Lawn to north could be created, Sieniewicz added, while maintaining drop-off at loop and preserving three large oak trees at that location.

Sidewalks would also be expanded by as much as three times their existing sizes around the building’s façade, he said, and a new pedestrian area would be created on Parkman Street for people to gather and wait for their rides. New open spaces with seating would also be created throughout the campus.

Sebastian Belfanti, director of West End Museum, said they had originally opposed the hospital’s panned expansion as originally proposed because it could’ve meant the demolition of three of about dozen historically significant buildings that remain from the old West End – the 1884 Winchell Elementary School (a.k.a. Ruth Sleeper Hall) at 24 Blossom St., the 1910 West End Tenement House at 23-25 North Anderson St. and the West End Settlement House at 16-18 Blossom St.

But now, the museum isn’t opposing the proposal, said Belfanti, because they believe that the project’s perceived benefits will far outweigh its expected disadvantages.

“MGH has done a really exceptional job to compensate the West End and Beacon Hill communities for the loss of these structures,” Belfanti said, “and I’m really excited to work with MGH to get the historical displays up to educate visitors to the new building.”

(MGH has already committed to providing exhibit space at the new building for the West End Museum, as well as for the Museum of African American History.)

While MGH’s new building is expected to use 95-percent renewable electric energy, several members of the community expressed their serious concerns that the remaining energy for the building would come from steam generated by burning natural gas at a Cambridge power plant.

Andee Krasner of Mothers Out Front, a national, grass-roots group of mothers, grandmothers and other caregivers advocating for a transition off of fossil fuels to renewable energy in an effort to combat climate change, asked why the remaining energy couldn’t come from geothermal energy instead. But a project consultant said this wasn’t a viable option, since it would require space for the installation of wells – something that’s already in short supply in the congested West End.

MGH’s plan would also capture the steam from the power plant, said members of the project team, which would otherwise likely be condensed and dumped into the Charles River.

Members of the project team also said that the electric grid currently couldn’t power the building, but as the grid expands, the plan is to wean the building off steam all together.

“The grid doesn’t have capacity to support building long-term, so in the meantime, we have to rely on this alternative energy source,” said Sieniewicz. “ It’s s small energy use, and we’re proud of how small it is.”

This was the third meeting sponsored by the Boston Planning and Development Agency and held via Zoom on the project within the past month, with the earlier two focusing on architecture and preservation, as well as transportation and traffic impacts, respectively.

The public comment period for MGH’s proposed clinical building is July 7. Visit http://www.bostonplans.org/projects/development-projects/mgh-clinical-and-campus-services-building to submit your comments or for information on the project.         

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