By Beth Treffeisen
The Westland Avenue Gateway in the Back Bay Fens is scheduled to get some major improvements this year, both to the stonework and to the surrounding parkland area.
As part of this year’s capital budget for the City, $660,000 has been secured to conserve the Johnson Gates and update the surrounding parkland and pathways. Construction is expected to start in Spring 2018.
The goal is to expand useable park area and improve accessibility into a multi-functional space.
“We want to take Frederick Olmsted’s plan and make it more accommodating to every day use,” said Sam Valentine, the landscape architect.
The design work includes the conservation of the Johnson Gates, associated walls, stonework, and horse troughs on Hemenway Street, a historic study to re-align the pathway systems in the study area, with a particular focus on accessibility along with fencing repair or replacement.
New pathways around 14 feet wide will be installed according to a study that determined where the highest traffic goes. One particular path that has a tree sticking through the middle will be moved away from that tree to a different location of high traffic.
“The seemingly illogical paths will be improved pathways that’s more logical,” said Valentine. “It is based on how many people use them today.”
As part of the project there will also be evaluation and restoration of the lawn areas and trees within the defined scope of work.
Currently there are 13 trees the project team is preparing to remove and 24 new trees will be replanted. The project team hopes to be able to preserve around 15 to 18 trees.
In addition, there will be added shrubbery to mirror historic photos of the site. New lighting and bicycle parking are also being done.
There will be path edging, to keep the majority of foot traffic on the sidewalks, which will include a mix of low ankle high fences and shrubbery.
During the third community meeting on this project held on Monday June 26, concerns from the public arose about keeping a maintenance fund in order to make sure this hard work stays in place for year’s to come.
“You are 100 percent right in that we would like to see it maintained by the City, but it is tough to find the funds to do that,” said Karen Mauney-Brodek, the president of the Emerald Necklace Conservancy. “We asked to increase the budget to try to express the concerns you have now but it is an ongoing battle.”
Margaret Dyson the director of Historic Parks from City said, “I feel the frustration that you have and we thought twice that we would have the answer to that question but we haven’t.”
Dyson said the capital budget is incredibly difficult to deal with and the Parks Department did not have the money until July 1 to move forward with the project.
“This project right now is because of those volunteers who worked to get it,” said Dyson. “I share the frustration that these projects take so long but this the result of a comprehensive project.”