The latest two-year extension to Berklee School of Music’s Institutional Master Plan will only include one project – the proposed renovation and conversion of an existing four-story building at 12 Hemenway St. into student housing, according to school officials on hand for the city-sponsored, virtual Aug. 3 meeting of the IMP Task Force.
The 30,000 square-foot building currently permitted as a lodging house would need a zoning variance from the city to change its usage to a residence hall, which would contain 110 beds in 63 units. (Berklee purchased the building in December of 2020 with the intention of renovating it into a residence hall, said school officials. ) The scope of the proposed renovations entails accessibility improvements, including the installation of an elevator and replacing an outdoor lift with an internal Lula (limited use/limited application) system; restoring the building’s façade; and repairing its roof, according to representatives for Berklee.
The building will be occupied through the end of December, so the approximately nine-month construction project is expected to kick off next January to be ready in time for the fall 2023 semester, said Richard Hisey, Berklee’s senior vice president for Administration and Finance, chief financial officer, and chief investment officer. (Hisey will step down from his current role at the end of this month and subsequently continue to serve as the school’s chief investment officer.)
Berklee’s plan to convert 12 Hemenway St. into a residence hall will also help the school achieve its goal of housing 50 percent of its student population on campus – up from the current rate of 25 percent, said Kaitlin Passafaro, Berklee’s vice president of government and community relations. The school has increased the number of on-campus beds by 40 percent in the past 10 years, she added. (The total enrollment of undergraduate and graduate students for the 2021-22 school year was 5,744, according to Berklee.)
The current two-year IMP, which was filed in June, is a departure from the typical 10-year terms for IMPs in the city, said Passafaro, as well as Berklee’s first IMP since merging with The Boston Conservatory in 2016.
Meanwhile, future plans for the Neighborhood Improvement Committee – an all-volunteer group of Fenway residents, organizations, and business led by Berklee to encourage “shared stewardship” of the neighborhood – include expanding it to the Back Bay, as well as codifying the organization with the addition of a charter and hiring consultants to help facilitate this process.
“This group has proven to be incredibly adept at identifying and addressing issues that impact both Berklee and the area residents, organizations, and businesses,” said Passafaro, adding once the charter is in place, Berklee would establish a fund for future NIC beautification projects.
Projects previously proposed in Berklee’s and The Boston Conservatory’s last IMPs, which were released in 2011 and 2012, respectively, that could potentially be incorporated into the next 10-year IMP for both institutions include: the conversion of an existing parking lot at 134 Ipswich St. into a 200,000 square-foot , multi-use building with academic spaces on the lower levels and student housing above; the renovation of an existing academic building at 161-171 Massachusetts Ave. into a student Health Center on the ground floor of 167 Mass Ave. with academic and performance space above; and the Crossroad project. which would transform current academic and office space at 130 Massachusetts Ave. into a mixed-use development with ground-floor retail, a performance center, academic space, and student housing, said Ashley Mulcahy of the Berklee team.
Rich Giordano, a Task Force member, as well as director of policy and community planning for Fenway CDC (Community Development Corporation), described the conversion into student housing of 12 Hemenway St., which the Fenway CDC had planned to purchase to create affordable housing before getting outbid, as a “fait accompli,” since Berklee has already purchased the building and students have been living there.
But Giordano wants a longer-term commitment from Berklee to return the residence hall at 98 Hemenway St. back to residential use, once the project proposed for the Ipswich Street parking lot, or the Crossroad project, gets underway, whichever one comes first. “I realize that it might take until the next IMP, but I’d like to see it explicitly in there,” he said. (Hisey replied that the Ipswich Street project would be included in Berklee’s next 10-year IMP.)
Tim Horn, a Task Force member, as well as board president of the Fenway Civic Association, urged Berklee to continue working on the Crossroads project, which he described as a “game-changer for the Master Plan.”
Asked how Berklee could ensure that its residence halls would remain an attractive option for students, Hisey responded that Berklee has constantly monitored its room-and-board costs, keeping the cost increase to about 1 percent per year.
“We’re filled up…so the students are definitely taking advantage of that, and we use every available bed on the campus,” he said. “We’re very mindful of the cost to students.”
Moreover, Hisey added, “Essentially, all of our first-year students are strongly encouraged, if not required, to house on campus.”
Marie Fukuda, a Task Force member, as well as a Fenway Civic Association board member said she wants to see Berklee take a more hand-on, proactive approach with the NIC and its neighborhood stewardship, rather than just issuing grants to neighborhood residents and leaving them to do the beautification work themselves.
“I would like to see Berklee take direct ownership for some of those things we share in spaces we both occupy,” she said.
Likewise, City Councilor Kenzie Bok said she hopes one of the things to come out of formalizing the NIC charter would be for Berklee to take more ownership of certain areas in the public realm, especially in the East Fens, and in “the immediate vicinity of the school’s urban campus.”
Councilor Bok also looked to the 10-year IMP and underscored the importance of “making sure the goal posts don’t move” in terms of Berklee’s commitment to housing half of its student body on campus to help address the housing impact and the issue of family displacement in the neighborhood.
The Boston Planning & Development Agency’s public-comment period for the Berklee School of Music IMP is open through Aug. 31; visit http://www.bostonplans.org/planning/institutional-planning/higher-ed/berklee-college-of-music for more information.