Post-construction rendition of the Callahan Tunnel Vent Building on North Street (Source: MassDOT))

“Let’s hope it’s not like the Central Artery project” Jeff Cirace of V. Cirace & Son commented at a public meeting where Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) officials described the upcoming construction work on the Callahan Tunnel vent building on North Street. MassDOT held the community meeting on April 29th to prepare North End residents and businesses for the work on the outside walls of the tunnel vent building that could begin this Fall.

Existing brick wall condition of tunnel vent building (Source: MassDOT)

John Romano, MassDOT liaison, said “the bricks are falling apart on the tunnel vent building and separating from wall behind. There is no option but to do these repairs.” Attendees asked why not repoint the bricks instead of replacing the entire wall structure? The architects explained that the wall is moving outward and the ceiling height is too high to use traditional stars and anchors to reinforce it.

The $5.5 million project will completely replace the four walls of the vent building over a one year period. Each side will take 2-3 months as the bricks are taken off and replaced. MassDOT is waiting for approval from the Mass. Historical Commission, but will otherwise go to bid in 6-8 weeks. Once a contractor is chosen, a follow-up community meeting will be held with more details. Construction could start in the Fall of this year.

Most of the work will take place between the hours of 7am-3:30pm during standard union hours. However, the work over the tunnel itself might require traffic detours and lane closings. If so, there may be weekend and night work.  Dust restrictions will be put in place.

Construction noise is the primary concern of abutting residents and business owners at the meeting. Parents at the meeting raised concerns regarding how the noise will interfere with their daily activities, such as children’s napping times. Victor Brogna asked that no vehicle “backup” alarms be allowed before 7:00 am. One silver lining is that work is likely to begin in the fall and winter months when windows are closed.

High Voltage Tot Lot
Several parents at the meeting said they are anxious to see the re-opening of the tot lot on the property, known as “High Voltage” playground because of the like-named signs on the tunnel building. The tot lot has been closed for safety reasons as pieces of the brick wall were falling in the lot. After the facade work is completed in about a year, the tot lot will be reopened. Romano noted that all four tunnel vent buildings will be repaired, but the North St. building was chosen first so the tot lot could be reopened sooner.

MassDOT Municipal Affairs Liaison, John Romano, presents at community meeting.
MassDOT Municipal Affairs Liaison, John Romano, presents at community meeting.

For the tot lot, there will be no work done on the apparatus itself which will stay on site during construction. Neighbors asked if it could be installed at the little park on Richmond St., but officials said it would not fit and the rubber base would be difficult to relocate. The small grass plots surrounding the building will be replaced. MassDOT has not decided on details such as fencing around the lot. There will be no repaving on North Street.

After the North St. vent tunnel is completed, MassDOT will move to one of the other four buildings, including the Sumner Tunnel vent building on the other side of North Street, near Clark Street. The other two buildings are on the East Boston side of the tunnel.

Residents complained that the vent building does not do enough to handle the dust and dirt that comes out of the tunnel. A North Street resident questioned whether the vent was operating up to code. Unfortunately, no mechanical work is part of this project so there will be no improvement on that issue. However, MassDOT believes the building will be better insulated after the work is completed so that the vent machine noise should be lessened for abutters.

Rats were also raised as an issue, especially on the back side near small lot on Richmond Street. Romano said that the contractor will be responsible for rodent control as part of the contract. There was some skepticism, as Jeff Cirace said, “During the Big Dig, a rat walked in the front door of my store that you could have saddled.”

Richmond Street Park/Dog Run
The small park area on Richmond Street, often used as a dog run, is not part of this project. Romano said, “We are not touching it.” He referenced very strong and contrary opinions in the community regarding what should happen with the space. There was a plan to pave the area to reduce the rodent problem, but MassDOT has been asked postpone any action by City Councilor Sal LaMattina and State Rep. Aaron Michlewitz, until a community consensus is reached.  “There are two distict opinions on what should happen in that area,” said Romano, referring to those that want a dog park and abutters that oppose it.

MassDOT’s community liason, John Romano, welcomes questions and comments at 617-248-2822 or John.Romano@state.ma.us.

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