SELC Puts Preservation Plan on Hold for Boston Medical Center

By Beth Treffeisen

The South End Landmarks Commission (SELC) voted to continue the application for the preservation plan and evaluation report of the Dowling Building at Boston Medical Center at the January 3, hearing.

With Commissioners John Amodeo and John Freeman, who have been working on this project for many years absent from the hearing, the remaining three Commissioners felt it was not appropriate to make a final decision, especially without seeing a copy of the preservation plan or the current Institutional Master Plan (IMP).

“There is a long history here,” said Commissioner Catherine Hunt. “There are two Commissioner’s that have been a part of this not here and I believe we are not capable of making a decision without a plant in front of us and just with a discussion here.”

Boston Medical Center is a private, not-for-profit, 496-bed, academic medical center located in the historic South End. It has the largest safety net hospital and busiest trauma and emergency services center in New England.

This Preservation Plan is a follow up to a 2014 discussion about the Phase 1 Project that is currently under construction on Albany Street. As part of that decision, Boston Medical Center was asked to return with a preservation plan on the future growth of the hospital.

The proposal would create a historic committee that will work with the SELC into the future and will grade the buildings in order of historic importance to help with future development planning.

As part of the current IMP, the hospital is in a multi-year redesign that consolidates inpatient operations to the Menino side of the campus and transitions services out of the Newton Pavilion by 2018.

Right now, the Boston University School of Medicine cuts the two buildings off, often leading to patients having to be put in an ambulance to travel between the few blocks.

But, as Boston Medical Center looks to the future, the plan calls for having all their services along Albany Street. In order to meet that demand, the designers are looking towards the historic Dowling Building as the next point of expansion for in-patient care.

The Dowling meeting, Leslie Donovan from the Tremont Preservation Services said, is unable to be retrofitted to allow for inpatient care and will make it very difficult to keep everything on that block if a new building is not put in it’s place.

“There are almost no ways of redoing features, structures, systems, floor landings, windows that would be able to serve the needs of the patients,” said Donovan. “They are already looking for a new building that will meet those requirements.”

As of right now, the Dowling Building will be put on the back burner until further expansion is needed.

The West Newton Campus currently has 600,000 square feet not being used and is just sitting there vacant. The goal is to close down that campus and move part of the beds into the Menino and Yawkey Buildings. The final goal is to have a total of about 300 beds.

The Power Plant will be used as a new outpatient and administrative building.

“We are trying to plan for the future but the future is hard to plan for, especially in a hospital,” said Brendan Whalen the director at Boston Medical Center.

The applicants were asked to come back with more creative alternatives to using the Dowling Building for future inpatient care and what those ramifications would be like.

Commissioner Hunt asked them to also look at where they would expand beyond just the Dowling Building. She said, “If you’re going to expand it would have to be right across the street and sooner or later it’s going to happen.”

SELC doesn’t approve chain-link fence for Blackstone School

Earlier in the meeting, the SELC approved in concept the removal and replacement of a failed retaining wall and installation of new stairs, railings, and fencing along West Dedham Street at the Blackstone Boston Public School.

The retaining wall collapsed two years ago during the snowstorms, causing the school to do an emergency repair. According to Khadijah Brown, the facility manager for BPS, the structural engineer who looked at the wall said it would have to be reconstructed.

The big issue arose when Brown proposed putting an 8-foot high, chain-link fence with deep mesh along the wall, to prevent kids from climbing over and from falling into the lower ditch below.

“We absolutely have to have a fence to keep those kids from falling into that area,” said Brown.

Brown said that schools usually use a steel picket fence, but she said the school doesn’t believe it would be enough to keep kids out. She also agreed that 8-feet is a bit high and would definitely lower it.

Issues also arose with the design as to whether there was a gate or not that led down the stairs. Brown said there has to be one because it needs to be operated during emergencies.

“I think we’re in a difficult situation to approve a chain link fence because of the area,” said Commissioner Peter Sanborn. “And if we can’t make the City abide by their own codes it’s a bit hypercritical.”

The applicant was asked to submit a new design for a fence more in keeping with Shawmut Avenue, with steel pickets, with height not exceeding six-feet, along with a more detailed design of the gate to go to staff.

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