By Seth Daniel
Major changes are in store for the Christian Science Plaza at the nexus of the South End and Back Bay neighborhoods – including making the pool smaller and shallower – as announced Tuesday night at the St. Botolph Neighborhood Association meeting.
“They will be filing a plan with Landmarks,” said Lee Steele, the long-time St. Botolph representative to the gigantic redevelopment project. “The concept has been approved by the City. Now, the church is just filling in the details.”
Steele would know.
He has an entire portion of his bookcase devoted to the Christian Science project, which he has been involved with on the community level since 2011. That encompasses 30 meetings and many volumes of materials that, as referred to above, occupy valuable space on his bookshelf.
One of the biggest changes, he said, involves a bit of a reformat to the signature reflecting pool.
“They did have a plan for a walkway across the pool, but that’s out because they’ve said they can’t do it and there is a problem with the engineering of it,” he said. “They do plan to cut the pool down and shorten it by 16 feet on the Mass Ave side. Also, right now it is about two to four feet deep and that’s a lot of water. They going to make it eight inches deep all the way across. It’s a lot to maintain a deeper pool and they want to be more environmentally sound by using less water. They will keep the infinity edge where the water pours over. Now, the water will be so shallow that you will be able to see the bottom and they have an interesting design element under the pool that will add a very different visual element there.”
That visual element involves installing black granite stone all the way across the pool that will create an entirely new viewing experience of the signature neighborhood landmark.
“That black granite will be partially shined and partially not shined to create a concentric offset pattern and you‘ll be able to see the design through the water,” said Steele. “It will be very visible.”
Gone from the Plaza will be a 25-story building that was planned for what is known as the Sunday School Building above the parking garage – which reportedly is very highly underutilized and perhaps unknown by many.
Steele said the planners have removed the possibility of that building on Huntington Avenue and have added its height and square footage to the two towers on Dalton Street that are already under construction.
“As much as I hate 700 foot tall buildings (on Dalton Street), I would much rather have that than a 25-story building anywhere near this Plaza on Huntington Avenue,” he said, to the agreement of all in the crowded room.
The shortened pool will create a new walkway and viewing corridor from Huntington Avenue to what is known as the “Mother Church” that faces Mass Avenue. The grassy area in front of the Church will be extended from its current location on Mass Avenue all the way back to the Church.
“There will now be a clear pathway to the Church from Huntington and that’s what they want,” Steele said. “They feel it is blocked now and they want to open that up.”
There will also be a sunken garden near the entrance to the Church as well.
The Children’s Fountain on the corner of Huntington and W. Newton Street will remain as it is, but will be enveloped by new trees and surrounded by a new grass sitting area.
Additionally, they will shorten the concrete benches that surround the pool, make better plantings throughout and add permanent public bathrooms near the Fountain.
The bulk of the overall project, however, has nothing to do with the Plaza.
That part of the project is pretty much already under construction and involves a 25-story building at 30 Dalton St. that is now 80 percent complete. It has 255 residential units and adds 81 parking spots to the underutilized parking garage under the Plaza.
The biggest change, however, is the now-underway skyscraper that figures to be nearly as tall as the Prudential Center. That building will be 58 stories tall and 691 feet. It occupies the area across from the Sheraton Hotel.
The first floors will have a 250 room hotel operated by the Four Seasons and will also have 170 residential condo units. They will add 450 parking spots that will be connected to the underutilized Plaza parking garage.
“That’s already underway; it’s approved,” said Steele. “Just to know, that’s a building that is only a few feet shorter than the Prudential.”