Boston Parks Department hosted a community meeting last night to discuss design alternatives for wall improvements along Snow Hill Street, DeFilippo Playground, located at 135 Prince Street in the North End. This was the first community meeting in a continuing public process with the community and the project design team. This meeting was primarily about the Snow Hill Street wall. The play lot renovation is funded and planned as a separate project. The City has allocated $750,000 for DeFilippo Park, of which $275,000 has been designated for the Snow Hill Street wall improvements.
Michele Folts, Assistant Project Manager, Design and Construction Office, is the main Parks Department contact for the Snow Hill Street wall improvement project (email@example.com, 617-961-3025). Michele presented along with Bill Capone, Structural Engineer from Bayside Engineering.
Construction on the Snow Hill St. wall is planned to start in July 2011. This first meeting was to present the existing conditions and collect information from the community users. The input process will continue through year-end.
DeFilippo Park received the nickname “the Gassy” because in 1820, gas tanks were located on the site to serve the city. The excavated land was used for infill in other parts of the city. The tanks were removed in the early 1900s and in the 1960s, the City designed the park around a baseball field, including the stepped up terraces, known as “the flights.”
Today, DeFilippo Park is a triangular shaped lot encompassing approximately 0.9 acres and consists of a playground area, basketball court, tennis court and a multi-terraced area leading up to Hull Street. The park is bordered by Snow Hill Street on the east, Prince Street on the southwest and a parking garage on the northwest.
Snow Hill Street is separated from the wall by a five foot concrete sidewalk that also contains a number of trees and street signs. During the winter months, this sidewalk is snow and ice covered most of the time and is not passable.
Snow Hill Street Wall – Existing Conditions
“The good news is the granite isn’t moving and the brick is only moving a little, but the bad news is the concrete on top is crumbling.” That was the summary assessment by Engineer Bill Capone. Water is getting in the top through the concrete, freezing in the winter and causing bricks to crack and pop out.
The age of the wall is unknown and is believed to be originally constructed sometime in the early 1800’s. The granite and brick retaining wall is approximately 290 feet in length and varying in height from 16 to 26 feet. The wall is comprised of two main sections, a lower section ranging from 8 to 17 feet in height comprised of granite blocks and an upper section comprised of brick that is fairly uniform in height along the length of the wall at about 8’-6”. Only the upper brick portion of the wall is visible from Snow Hill Street.
On top of both the granite sections and brick sections are concrete caps which are cracked and deteriorated. On the park side of the wall, there are ten granite and brick buttresses perpendicular to the wall which are of similar construction as the main wall.
In August of 2006, a chain link fence was removed that ran along the top of the wall and had steel posts socketed into the concrete cap on top of the granite blocks on the park side of the wall. The posts were also anchored to the brick portion of the wall with through bolts and 1/4” thick backer plates. Research indicates the fence was installed sometime after 1965 (as the back fence of the baseball field) and may have contributed to the current leaning condition of the wall.
Bayside Engineering has been monitoring the wall for the last 4 years. The project was moved up because bricks are starting to fall out even though the wall is not leaning more now than four years ago.
The brick is largely for aesthetics and the wall could be lowered if residents agreed. There would still need to be some type of safety barrier, such as an iron fence. The brick wall could be reduced to 6 feet high with a similar height sized fence on top. Snow Hill St. residents might experience more noise without the wall.
Public safety issues were considered paramount and a lower height wall would open that side of the park to be in view and could dissuade illicit activities on the flights. Sgt. Lema of the Boston Police has been consulted and agreed with that concept.
Lighting was also noted as a high public safety priority for that area of the park. Much of the existing lighting is not working.
Parking on Snow Hill Street during construction was a major concern. Residents asked that as much equipment be kept in the park rather than on the street. The sidewalk will likely need to be reconstructed on Snow Hill Street.
The flights of stairs are not part of the wall improvement project and will be considered as part of play lot renovations. A resident noted that the planters have become filled with dog feces and would like them removed. The Parks Department said that their budget does not currently include significant renovation on the flights.
Although this meeting was primarily about the wall against Snow Hill Street, the Parks Department is planning a future meeting on the play area. The kids need a bigger tot lot that could extend to the street. The existing lot has been there for 16 years.
Residents noted that the drainage problem needs to be fixed before work starts on the new play lot.
While no date has been set, the Parks Department expects the next meeting to be in late October or early November. Watch the Community Calendar for meeting and event dates.