Details Unveiled for Proposed Renovation of Public Garden Tool House

 The city sponsored its second virtual meeting to discuss the proposed renovation of the Public Garden tool house, which now includes plans for a flat-top addition behind the existing building, on Wednesday, June 28.

“The goals and objectives of the project are to address the critical repairs to the aging building on the site,” said Nathan Frazee, a Boston Parks & Recreation Department project manager. “We want to provide a maintenance facility that’s sufficient to the needs and care of the Public Garden, and we want to improve the interior space for the Parks Department staff, as well as the Swan Boats team who utilize the building.”

The 642 square-foot structure is located in the Public Garden along Charles Street, just north of the Edward Everett Hale monument, and it’s home to both interior space for the Public Garden’s facilities under the auspices of the Boston Parks Department (which occupies around 449 square feet in the building), as well as the Swan Boat operations (which occupies about 130 square feet).

According to Brett Bentson, a principal  with the Boston architectural firm, Utile, the existing structure was built in 1946 and is architecturally reminiscent of the Victorian “stick style” comfort station it replaced on the site. The building  structure is a concrete block with wood cladding, and the walls and roof are uninsulated. Its layout was reconfigured sometime between 1946 and 1997, which included the removal of its restrooms. In 1997, the north door to the workshop was changed from a double-leaf to the existing garage door-style rollup.

“Overall, the exterior of the building needs pretty significant repairs,” said Bentson, “and our approach to the existing building is to keep and repair rather than replace as much possible.”

The roof and flashings are in disrepair, said Bentson, while the gutter has “completely failed,” leading to substantial deterioration of wood and wall elements, among other damage the building has sustained.

The existing building would be modified to include a garage for additional equipment, additional storage space, and a restroom for the Swan Boats staff, said Bentson,

A flat-top addition, which could be easily outfitted with solar panels, is proposed to the east of the existing structure and set back 4½ from Charles Street. “The goal is to have the new addition recede from the existing building and not compete with it,” said Benston.

The addition’s exterior walls would comprise vertical wood bays that would “echo the pattern and texture” of the existing building, said Bentson, while reinterpreting it in a “more streamlined way,” so as not to compete with the existing building. The addition will house a garage for maintenance equipment; a workshop and office for the maintenance foremen; a break room; a changing room for the staff; and a restroom, he said.

Moreover, the addition will be painted in two color tones that will “weather to a natural silver-gray color over time,” added Bentson, and  unlike the existing building, which will remain mostly uninsulated and unheated, the new high performance, low-energy building will not only be insulated but also heated and cooled for the comfort of year-round staff.

The immediate surroundings include a highly used paved area spanning around 1,900 square feet between the rear of the Tool House and Charles Street, which in addition to several parking spaces for staff vehicles, is home to a dumpster, a cabinet for flammable materials, a heating oil tank, an unused heating pump, and a maintenance shed for the Rose Brigade – a volunteer organization led by the Friends of the Public Garden that tends to the Public Garden’s rose beds, said Bentson.

A  20-foot shipping container, which houses large equipment and supplies, is also located just outside the paved area, added Bentson.

Besides reducing the paved area by about 20 percent from its current configuration, other landscaping changes would include the installation of a new fence and a gate, the installation of a new opaque fence surrounding the parking area, and the addition of a sliding gate with an adjacent swinging gate for dumpster access, said Bentson.

Kyle Zick, a landscape architect for the project, said landscaping improvements planned for the immediate area include reconfiguring the pathways leading to the Tool House; planting a mix of Evergreen and Deciduous foundation plantings at varying heights; and removing the shipping container from the tree roots it sits upon.

A dedicated bench, along with its cobblestone and accompanying plaque, would be moved together and relocated to another nearby spot in the park to make way for a reconfigured pathway, said Zick.

Helene Guezennec, a project manager for the city, said the schematic portion of the project has been in the works for about a year now, and is now about midway through its design development portion.

​Construction documents are expected to be released in August, she said, before the state’s Article 97 review process, which protects open space, can begin “And hopefully, we’ll reopen as soon as possible,” she said.

​The Boston Landmarks Commission will be reviewing the project at least twice, including at next month’s hearing, said Bentson, and it will also be subject to review by the state and the National Parks Service.

​While the exact timeline for the project is still uncertain due to the pending Article 97 process, construction isn’t expected to kick off for another two years, he said.

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