Revitalized West End Branch Library Could Contain Affordable Housing Component

The city is now considering the creation of affordable housing in redeveloping the West End Branch Library, according to members of the design team who unveiled the plan as part of the city’s “programming study” for the branch library that kicked off virtually Thursday, Oct. 22, with the first of several planned meetings.

The city’s Public Facilities Department, working in concert with the Boston Public Library and Ann Beha Architects, is undertaking the approximately 12-month study to evaluate the existing conditions of the West End Branch, which opened in the 1960s, as well as to plan for the future of the library over the next half-century.

Besides serving the between 25,000 and 26,000 residents of the West End, the library has also been the main branch for many families on Beacon Hill and the surrounding neighborhoods, as well as for the Mass General community, said Philip Chen, principal and president of Boston-based Ann Beha Architects.

The West End Branch only occupies about one-third of the 7,000 square-foot site footprint, Chen added, while the library itself occupies around 10,000 gross square feet, with nearly 3,000 square feet of that space located in the basement.

“The building is generally in good condition, and has been maintained well over the years by the BPL,” Chen said.

           The deign team has identified the needs for a “welcoming and accessible entrance,” as well as for an adequate community room that could accommodate up to 100 guests, Chen said, along with new opportunities for a multipurpose classroom; small study rooms; and open space for educational and reading purposes around the library.

The design team also point to the existing library’s hexagonal reading room as one of its greatest assets, due to its optimal sightlines.

“The site has really good solar orientation,” he added, “and a good amount of daylight comes through the windows during the day.”

Chen said the design team would return in January with several options and more information on whether the library would be one or two stories, as well as on the number of proposed residential units in the development.

Rob Whitney, chair of the Beacon Hill Civic Association board of directors, requested that the oddly shaped reading room be maintained in the new development, adding that he taught his children what a hexagon was via its shape.

Another request came from David Viera, of the Friends of the West End Branch Library, who asked that space be provided for the group to store its documents and maintain its records in the new library.

Maureen Anderson, senior project manager with the Facilities Department, said the details of the fine points of the project remain unclear as the process is just now getting underway.

“There’s no decision on the number or type of units – none of that has been decided,” Anderson said. “That’s something we’re exploring, and we’re interested in hearing the community’s thoughts on.”

The design team is scheduled to make its final presentation on the programming study in May 2021, as well as to make its final presentation the following month. Construction is then expected to take between 20 and 36 months to complete.

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