Better Days are Ahead for Library Park in the South End

December 14, 2017
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By Beth Treffeisen

For more than a decade, Library Park, which sits adjacent to the South End Branch of the Boston Public Library at 685 Tremont St., has not seen any major infrastructure improvements. But, better days for the charming corner park may finally be underway.

After several discussions between the Friends of the South End Library and Boston Parks Commissioner Christopher Cook, Library Park received $150,000 in city capital funding to begin reprogramming and repairs of the green space next year.

A public hearing was held on Nov. 29 at the South End library by the Boston Parks Department to find out what changes the community would like to see, and to present preliminary design ideas.

“The park is located in a real transitional corner,” said Marleen Nienhuis, president of Friends of the South End Library. “When it looks unkempt it attracts unwanted users to the park, which is not good for us. But when it is taken care of and maintained, it can really become a neighborhood jewel.”

One of the reasons behind the design delay was because it took a year to determine which city agency owned the park, the Boston Public Library or the Boston Parks and Recreation, before plans to repair and improve the space could advance.

The official owner, it was determined, is the Boston Public Library, but the Parks Department is in charge of the planned capital improvements.

“The park has been a problem for a long time,” said Nienhuis. “Being attached to the library, it has a lot of public usage.”

The budget of $150,000 with the construction budget of $115,000 was based off an estimate that the blue stone pavers in the park needed repair. Currently they are a real tripping hazard, and can be unsafe said Lauren Bryant, project manager for the Boston Parks Department. But, after discussions with the Friends of the South End Library they quickly learned there where a lot of other problems as well.

“We learned that they didn’t even like the blue, stone pavers,” said Bryant. “So we decided to go to the drawing board.”

Out of the initial meeting came three design plans that could fit within the budget.

The first concept was to replace the blue stone with concrete material and spend money on other things like paving, tree planting and café chairs. It would also include a drinking fountain and new trash cans.

The second concept mirrored the first one, but instead used Unilock pavers, which are aesthetically more pleasing yet are also more expensive, meaning the design would have to exclude the café tables and seating area.

The third design re-imagined the entire park, which had a more circular pathway, with islands in the middle filled with vegetation. It would use concrete, but wouldn’t be able to include the chairs and new benches.

There will still be a patio area, but it will not be as large as it is now. In addition, the patio will be moved closer to the library building, where the electrical outlets are located.

“They were very excited about the third design,” said Bryant. “We got good feedback and listened to their concerns and why they like certain designs better. We will take that back and put those ideas in a final design.”

Since 2007, Library Park has been largely maintained by the Friends of the South End Library, which has proven to be an uphill battle with exhausted soil conditions and severely deteriorated pavement.

Nienhuis said when she arrived in the South End in the early 2000s the park was unkempt and uncared for. “I think it is the most deteriorated park in the South End,” she said.

Inappropriate park usage have left unwanted trash behind including drug paraphernalia, broken liquor bottles, empty pizza boxes, condoms and soaked clothing. Other usage has included sleeping, smoking, drinking or urinating in corners.

To help stem the problem, the Friends’ board members continue to volunteer personally and have raised funds to pay someone to regularly rake leaves, pick up trash, water plantings and shovel snow.

In addition, the Friends were able to receive free contributions of plantings and landscaping by Mahoney’s Garden Center, and the local landscape company, Urbgardens. Nienhuis said the Friends of the South End Library have also worked with the Boston Parks Department to switch out the benches for single chairs, to help stem the sleeping problem.

In order to bring life back to the abandoned feel at night in the park, the Friends have hosted a few initiatives including the illuminated LightWells. The storm water filtration-system, casts a continuously changing glow of colors in the park’s dark corners.

Programming during the warmer months includes the Annual Easter Egg Hunt, and the four-summer Jazz and Blues concert by Pat Loaomis and his Friends.

The final design of the renovated Library Park still needs to go through the South End Landmarks Commission for approval at the January 2 hearing. The bid for construction can go up as early as February of 2018 with construction to begin in March 2018. The goal is to have the park reopened by late summer or fall of same year.

“I think this project will have a really great impact,” said Nienhuis.

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