Three ‘Test Fits’ Presented for Proposed Renovation of South End Branch Library

The public got its first look at three ‘test fits’ for the proposed renovation of the South End Branch Library at a second virtual meeting on the project jointly sponsored by the Boston Public Library and the city’s Facilities Department on Tuesday, Feb. 12.

​Brett Bentson, a principal at Utile Architecture, outlined all three ‘test fits’ – 3-D depictions, which are not design proposals, he said, and “fit together like Lego blocks” to show how different construction arrangements would fill the site to replace the existing 9,400 square-foot library. (The library has been closed since falling prey to flooding in September of 2023, after also suffering an earlier flood the previous April.)

​The first ‘test fit’ would span 17,000 square feet and entail renovating the existing structure and making an addition. This approach would preserve the existing building shape and facades along Tremont and West Newton streets, with most (but not all) of its new construction above the floodplain, said Bentson. The entrance for this option would be set back from Tremont Street.

​Constraints for this option, he said, include that the existing building and some new construction would remain in the floodplain; limited headroom in the first floor of the addition (approximately 8-foot ceilings), while maintaining the low ceilings in the existing building; the expected high cost of adding onto the existing building; and that the addition would result in the loss of approximately half of Library Park, including several mature trees, among other considerations.

​The second ‘test fit’ would comprise around 15,050 square feet and include one story of new construction. For this option, the main entrance would be located directly off of Tremont and West Newton streets, while all program areas would be located on one floor, above the floodplain.

​Among the constraints for this approach, said Bentson, are that Library Park would need to be eliminated to accommodate the library program; the proposed elevator would still need to “negotiate” the level change above the floodplain; and the additional costs incurred in building an addition tall enough to meet the requirements of the South End Landmark District Commission. (The commission’s current guidelines mandate that new construction in the South End Landmark District must be at least 30 feet tall, said Bentson, while per the Boston Zoning Code, the floorplate needs to be 3 feet above the floodplain on Tremont Street.)

​The third ‘test fit’ is an approximately 15,485 square-foot option entailing two stories of new construction.

​This option would preserve the majority of Library Park, while all program areas would be located above the floodplain. The main entrance would be located off of Tremont Street and Library Park.

​Constraints for this option, said Bentson, include the potential impact on trees in the Library Park closest to the library; and that a two-story library would rely on an elevator for access between floors.

​South End resident Steve Fox asked about the possibility of the library being reimagined as a three-story building, adding that the consensus among neighborhood residents on message boards was a preference for as much library space as possible.

​BPL President David Leonard replied in addition to the rising costs that would come with building above two stories, a multi-story library would present problems for staff in regard to ensuring safety and being available to answer questions from visitors in such a large space.

​Fox also suggested that the new library could be home to an independent café, like the establishment that now operates inside the Copley Branch of the BPL. This could allow for additional gathering space “and wouldn’t impose on staff or cost a lot,” he said.

​But despite the apparent assets of this added library amenity, Leonard said it “might push it to a third story,” and added that “to build out a civic space as a business would be an issue” for the library.

​Leonard said the ‘acerated option’ being pursued for this project is only feasible because it doesn’t involve a “fully mixed-use” project. (The three-moth feasibility study for the project is now about halfway complete, while the design phase is expected to take about a year for the accelerated option.)

​“We’ll look at the pros and cons more formally at the third meeting,” said Leonard. “At the next meeting, we want to have a direction confirmed.”

​A third community meeting , which is tentatively set for March or April and could take place in-person, will include the finalized building program, with one option and perhaps a “couple more sub-options,” said Leonard.

​Bentson said he would provide a shadow study at the next meeting as well.

Meanwhile, future site activities will include the targeted installation drilling for geotech borings – temporary monitoring wells used to identify the physical properties surrounding a construction site – in early March, weather permitting, said Bentson, while drilling is expected to last three days to complete four borings.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.