By Martin J. Walsh
For over a century, the Nazzaro Community Center has represented the heart and soul of the North End. Generations have gathered there to learn, play, and have fun. While carrying on the rich traditions of this historic neighborhood, it’s also important that the center respond to the community’s changing needs. Throughout its long life, the building has undergone renovations, most recently in 2004. And now, the time has come to create a community center with the space and amenities that meet the needs of North End residents today.
Anyone who goes to the Nazzaro regularly can see that the current building is at capacity. It has a choppy layout, cramped rooms, a too-small basketball court, and no dedicated spaces for seniors or teens. It’s not unusual to find programs occurring in the hallways. That’s why regular visitors to the center have asked me to explore options for renovating or relocating the center to house a bigger space and expanded programming.
We began the process of planning a new community center in May 2017, with the goal of creating a larger space for more users. The City of Boston created a community advisory committee made up of residents and key stakeholders. We have held public meetings to encourage comments and hear ideas for the process, and presented our study at a public community meeting this past October.
The study recommends doubling the capacity of the community center from 20,500 square feet to at least 41,000 square feet. A bigger space would allow for dedicated education, civic, arts, and sports programming. Six sites were explored for the study, and options have been narrowed down to three sites: the existing Nazzaro Center, the Mirabella Pool House, and the Sargent’s Wharf Site.
Throughout this process, strong community engagement is absolutely crucial. We’ve created surveys that encourage people to weigh in. One of them, called “A Day in the Life of the North End,” asks community members to describe their experiences in the neighborhood and identify what they most want to see at their future community center. So far, respondents’ most-desired programs are a community room, a regulation-size basketball court, appropriate spaces for more arts and crafts, and more spaces that better accommodate programming at the center. The survey is still posted online and we encourage all community members to participate. We also encourage residents to view and comment on the three potential locations.
This process is still in the early stages, and no final decisions have been made yet. The design team is taking all the community comments from meetings and surveys and developing a final report which will include a site recommendation. After the report comes out, and if we decide to move forward with designing a new center, community feedback will shape the design process.
Studying potential locations for a new community center is just one of the many ways we’re improving public spaces and expanding opportunity in the North End. Other investments include $34.3 million to renovate the Eliot School; $6.2 million to redesign Lagone Park and Puopolo Playground; $2.8 million to renovate Paul Revere Mall; $2.5 million to reconstruct North Square; and $260,000 in improvements to Christopher Columbus Park.
Throughout this planning process to create a bigger and better community center for the neighborhood, we want to continue to hear input and recommendations from North End residents. I know how important it is for our residents to have a high-quality space to gather as a community, and am committed to working in partnership with the residents of the North End to create a space that will serve the neighborhood in the best way possible for years to come.
For more information about getting involved in the planning process, please contact our North End liaison, Maria Lanza, at Maria.Lanza@boston.gov.
Top Photo: Mayor Walsh at a past speaking engagement in the gymnasium of the Nazzaro Community Center. (NEWF Image)