The public got what will likely be its last look at Mass General Hospital’s planned Clinical Building at a virtual meeting sponsored by the city on Tuesday, Oct. 4, in advance of the Boston Planning & Development Agency board of directors putting the matter to a vote next Friday, Oct. 14.
The new Clinical Building at 55 Fruit St. would consist of two, inter-connected 12-story towers facing Cambridge Street on the hospital’s main campus and comprise approximately 1,050,450 square feet of Gross Floor Area. It will include new beds and clinical facilities, resulting in approximately 94 net new beds, following the decommissioning of existing beds in older facilities and conversion of existing double beds into single beds. The proposed project will also have approximately six below-grade stories including approximately 864 parking spaces (175 net new spaces), as well as 556 new bicycle spaces (a 115-percent increase in bike parking).
The public process for the new hospital building began in February of 2019, said Edward Carmody of the BPDA, when MGH filed its initial documents with the city. Following a public process, as well as a scoping and soliciting additional feedback at a public meeting last summer that focused on preservation, the hospital filed a second set of documents with the city for the proposed building in April of this year, added Carmody.
Tom Sieniewicz, a partner with the Boston office of the architectural and design firm NBBJ, detailed ways in which the proposed project now departs from the earlier iteration, including moving the drop-off area near the garage and relocating the proposed new MBTA headhouse for the long-discussed MBTA Red-Blue line connector onto North Grove Street, as well as the creation of the North Anderson Street Arcade, which would add 12,000 square feet of new accessible space, or 60,000 square feet of space with the addition of roof-top terraces.
Thanks to the efforts of Rep. Jay Livingstone and City Councilor Kenzie Bok, a portion of the façade of the 1884 Winchell Elementary School (a.k.a. Ruth Sleeper Hall) at 24 Blossom St. will also be preserved, said Sieniewicz, and incorporated into the new building at Parkman and Blossom streets.
Additional community benefits and neighborhood mitigation from the proposed project include 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 – and a commitment from MGH 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 the hospital would make the Garden Street building available to the city for an acquisition fee of “$0” for income-restricted redevelopment purposes, with an eye on creating new affordable housing opportunities.
The new building will also be 85-percent electric-powered, with the remaining 15 percent generated by steam, said Sieniewicz, which is up from only 65-percent electric-powered in the first iteration.
Moreover, the new building is moving to an all-electric platform, he added, to keep in line with the goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050.
Richelle Gerwitz, a Beacon Hill resident and architect, asked MGH to consider dispensing with the proposed Superblock configuration in favor of a new design with a facade resembling several mid-sized structures to better align with the other existing buildings in the immediate area.
Linda Ellenbogen, a Hawthorne Place trustee, said she was still waiting for changes to come to Blossom Street that were promised under the Menino Administration.
Councilor Bok said she was disheartened to learn that money on the city’s docket that was earmarked for the Blossom Street redesign when she took office were also the same funds left over for the project from the Menino Administration. “It’s very disappointing, to say the least,” she added.
Also, Councilor Bok said, “I worry a lot about the intensely used pedestrian crossing where Blossom Street meets Parkman. It’s very frustrating for me.”
William Moose of the Boston Transportation Department said that the city’s Public Works Department (who wasn’t represented at the meeting) would be taking the lead on the Blossom Street redesign process.
Bill Conroy, senior project manager for the BTD, was on board during the Menino Administration for the Blossom Street redesign process and said he “would dust that off and get back to the community on it.”
Rep. Livingstone encouraged those in attendance to get involved in the BTD’s ongoing process involving the planning and design of Cambridge Street.
Rob Whitney, chair of the Beacon Hill Civic Association board, asked if some traffic to the hospital, which sometimes back up to the Longfellow Bridge, could be re-routed down Cambridge Street onto Blossom Street (while some others in attendance expressed concern this would only result in traffic being strained elsewhere).
David Habitchak of NBBJ responded that Phase 1, or the east side of the buildimg, would be completed three years before its west side, which would allow ample time to “train” hospital employees, patients, and visitors to access the hospital via Blossom Street instead. The BPDA board is scheduled to vote on both the application for Mass General’s proposed new Clinical Building and the hospital’s Institutional Master Plan on Oct. 14, and public testimony will be accepted during the virtual meeting