Chester Square Neighbors Hear Proposal for Ebenezer Church Redevelopment

The Chester Square Neighbors met virtually on May 5, where members heard from the team proposing to redevelop the Ebenezer Baptist Church at 157 West Springfield St. in the South End.

The proposal is for nine units of residential housing with parking for eight cars in the basement, which will be accessed through the alleyway. There will be outdoor space for the residential units, and he said the units will be on the larger side to fit in with the needs of the neighborhood. The building will also be fully accessible, and the mechanical equipment will be located on the roof.

According to a slide presented, the building was originally designed to be a Presbyterian church, but the “Ebenezer Baptist Church was founded by former slaves after the Civil War, in 1871,” when they came to Boston from Virginia. The church was also a location for civil rights rallies in the 1950s, and is a Black Heritage Site.

The Ebenezer Baptist Church held its final service in this building on February 23 of last year.

Deconsecration is scheduled to happen this year, and the “church will remove all sacred items,” and will also keep the stained glass windows as well as the pipe organ, according to the presentation.

“Hand carved wood trusses will also be removed and retained for future use in the organization’s next space,” the slide reads, and the brick will be restored.

Architect Eric Robinson said “we really kind of come to these projects with the notion of listening,” adding that the team wants to hear concerns from residents about the project.

For the church facade, Robinson said the front stoops will be maintained, and a preliminary conversation has been had with the South End Landmark District Commission (SELDC) about the project. The presentation stated that the design will “aim to deliver an architectural inter-vention that will be contemporary yet respectful to the existing structure.”

Kate Kelly from the project team said that respecting the “historical significance of the church…is something that is really important to us.”

She continued, “We totally understand the significance and want to make sure that is cap-tured as well.”

Resident Rudy Mitchell said he would like to see something “more detailed” than just a simple plaque or stone to remember the history of the church.

Resident Laura L’Abbe asked how long the construction would take and how long neighbors would potentially be disrupted during the process.

Robinson said that since the existing building will be kept, there is not much construction that needs to happen on the exterior of the building. He said that there will need to be a steel structure installed to reinforce the building and get it up to the seismic code.

He said that the steel frame will “go in quickly,” and the entire construction process should take between 16 and 18 months. Robinson added that he is “looking forward” to working on construction management plans with the neighborhood. 

Kelly said that “a lot of the work will be done internally,” and there would be “pretty minimal” street closure that would last two to three weeks “at most,” compared with some other projects that create take six to eight weeks for such work.

Another question was raised about the price point for the units and any affordability re-strictions that might be placed on them.

Kelly said that there are “no [Inclusionary Development Policy] units on the property itself,” but she said that the team is still discussing potential opportunities for affordable housing with the city. She also said it is difficult to predict the price point for the units since it would be at least a year and a half before the units would be on the market.

Developer Anton Cela said that the current cost of the project is $10 million “between pur-chasing and developing it as it is right now.” He said that he hopes the price will decrease, but right now, the cost of materials like wood and steel have sharply raised.

“Right now the markets are super volatile,” Cela said, and “we’re seeing supply chain prob-lems. I think it will be a much better place in a year and a half.”

Chester Square Neighbors president Carol Blair reiterated the concern about “erasing Black history” with this project, as former slaves founded the church when they came to the city and this structure at 157 W. Springfield St. had been used for more than 130 years as a place of worship and congregation.

“It’s really very, very important that the changes that are made to the appearance of this church be minimal and be very respectful,” she said.

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