The project team for Mass General Hospital’s planned $1.9 billion expansion of its Cambridge Street campus were on hand June 24 for a virtual forum sponsored by the Beacon Hill Civic Association to discuss community benefits for the project.
MGH has proposed a new 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; 929 parking spaces (for a net gain of 175 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 scheduled to get underway in June of 2022, with the project expected to wrap up in 2030, according to Nick Haney, a project manager in MGH’s planning and construction department. The protracted construction time is largely due to the logistics of keeping parking open throughout the duration of the project, which includes razing the Parkman Street Garage, he added.
Haney also said Rep. Jay Livingstone and City Councilor Kenzie Bok had worked with the hospital on its community benefits package for the project, particularly to compensate for the proposed 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.
Among the community benefits now proposed for the project are the creation of a new community center at 75 Blossom Court – a hospital-owned property that is now home to J Pace & Son, a small grocery store – as well as preserving the façade of the Winchell building and integrating it into the exterior of the new building’s design, said Haney.
MGH has also committed to move its current operations out of a maintenance garage at 12 Garden St. and into the new development in the next few years, at which time it would make the Garden Street building available to the city for an acquisition fee of “$0” for income-restricted redevelopment purposes. In the meantime, the hospital has expressed its willingness to work with the community to develop a Request for Proposal (RFP) for an affordable housing project for the site, which could take one of many forms, such as artists’ housing or housing for seniors who don’t now qualify for assistance, but still have trouble making ends meet, Councilor Bok told the BHCA board at its April 12 board meeting.
Additionally, the hospital will provide free exhibition space in the new building for the West End Museum and the Museum of African American History.
The project also proposes the creation of the North Anderson Street Arcade, said Tom Sieniewicz, a partner with the Boston office of the architectural and design firm NBBJ, which would close North Anderson Street to vehicular traffic and transform it into a “semi-public place,” with an approximately 50-by-50-feet public plaza on Cambridge Street at its entrance. The Bulfinch Lawn will also be reconstructed and re-landscaped as part of the project.
Also proposed is a head-house for the long-discussed MBTA Red-Blue line connector that would extend the Blue Line to connect beneath Charles Street to the Red Line’s Charles/MGH station.
In an effort to mitigate the traffic impact of the project, Vinod Kalikiri, a senior project manager for VHB, a civil engineering company, said there would be no access to the new garage from Cambridge Street and instead vehicles would access it on Parkman Street near Blossom Street.
Rep. Livingstone said he and Councilor Bok are both “extremely frustrated” with the potential traffic impact of the project, and added that Cambridge Street is “one of the biggest issues” when it comes to properly accommodating bicyclists and pedestrians there, alongside vehicular traffic.
Likewise, Charlotte Thibodeau of the Civic Association also said she’s not convinced that Cambridge Street would be able to easily accommodate the proposed bike lanes.
Martha McNamara, who was recently appointed as the Civic Association’s representative to the Beacon Hill Architectural Commission, was among those to express her dismay that construction of the semi-private North Anderson Street Arcade would inevitably block the viewshed through Beacon Hill to the Ether Dome in MGH’s Bulfinch Building, while pedestrians would no longer be able to freely walk through the proposed arcade.
“You’re taking the street away from us, and taking away views of this structure, and what are we getting back?” asked McNamara. “ I would argue we’re not getting back very much…. and I find it very hard to believe this is going to function as a public space.”
Sieniewicz replied that the North Anderson Street Arcade would remain open to the public at most times and have a large balcony overlooking the Ether Dome.
In response to those lamenting the future loss of the three West End buildings, Rep. Livingstone said he and Councilor Bok had worked closely with MGH and stakeholders on the mitigation package, and they had explored various project iterations in an effort to spare the buildings from demolition. “Unfortunately, it didn’t work out,” he said.
“There isn’t a perfect solution,” added Rep. Livingstone, “but it’s a significant win with all the community benefits.”
Rep. Livingstone also expressed his gratitude to MGH for essentially putting the project on hold to explore saving the three buildings, following a public outcry against their demolition that began last summer.
The public comment period for MGH’s proposed clinical building ends July 7. Visit http://www.bostonplans.org/projects/development-projects/mgh-clinical-and-campus-services-building to submit your comments or for more information on the project.