The Mirabella Pool bathhouse/spray fountain area on Commercial Street was selected as the final recommended site for a new North End community center. City of Boston officials released their assessment at a public meeting on April 25th and in a 293-page report published today on the Boston Centers for Youth and Families (BCYF) website.
BCYF highlighted the benefits of locating a new community center near the open space and garnering the recreational synergies of the adjacent Mirabella Pool and the open space at Puopolo Field and facilities at Langone Park. Close proximity to the new Eliot School building and the State-owned skating rink were also highlighted.
Most meeting attendees supported a new, larger community center, but many questioned the waterfront location and the relocation of the splash pool where the deep pool currently exists. In particular, seniors spoke out regarding the difficulty of walking further to the Commercial Street location adjacent to the Mirabella Pool. They preferred the Nazzaro Center, located in the center of the North End. The fate of the existing Nazzaro remains uncertain once the BCYF staff move to a new community center.
Once a new community center is ready for use, estimated in 2023 at the earliest, the existing Nazzaro Center would be transferred to the Department of Neighborhood Development (DND) and declared “surplus” property. According to the report, “if the City Council approves moving the property to surplus, DND would then engage in a community process to allow community input on how the City should best dispose of the property. The community would have an opportunity to focus the discussion on preservation, community based nonprofit use, affordable housing or other uses that might provide benefit.” A Request for Proposal (RFP) would then be drafted with guidelines in search for a new owner. The total property disposition schedule would be 18-30 months.
The City’s team from Sasaki Architects concluded that the existing Nazzaro Center is roughly half the size of its current demand. A new center should be at least 40,000 to 50,000 square feet, about double the current space, officials said. Highlighted takeaways from evaluating the usage of the Nazzaro is the long waiting list for programs. With no YMCA or Boys & Girls Club in the neighborhood, there is an enormous demand for the gym. Senior and teens are also looking for dedicated space.
Site selection analysis by city officials started with six sites. View the above video (14:30 minute mark) for a rundown of each site, pros and cons, along with the consultant’s recommendation. Summarized below are advantages and disadvantages from the published siting report.
- New building at existing Nazzaro Center site (39.6k sf, est. cost: $24.9 million)- Not recommended
- “The existing building assessment showed that the Nazzaro Center is in moderately good condition, needing upgrades and repairs in specific areas of the interiors, envelope, structure, and building systems. However the building is undersized for the current and desired programs. In particular, the size of the existing gymnasium is a severe constraint.”
- Mirabella Pool House (and surrounding area owned by City) – (54.3k sf, est. cost: $45.7 million) – Recommended Site
- Advantages: Contiguous with Langone and Puopolo Parks, MDC rink, new BPS school and related programs, synergies with current redesign of park, prominent waterfront site with great views, community enthusiasm for site, vehicular and pedestrian accessibility, meets recommended program, proximity to Mirabella Pool; ability to shared, locker room space and lockable storage, space for the park
- Disadvantages: Park site is subject to Article 97 requirements, (building requires legislative approval), demolition of existing bath house required, in flood hazard area and FEMA flood plain.
- Sargent’s Wharf (current public parking lot owned by BPDA) – (50.5k sf, est. cost $54.6 million) – Not recommended
- Advantages: Prominent waterfront site with great views, mixed-use funding opportunity, vehicular and pedestrian accessibility.
- Disadvantages: Loss of current parking lot, in flood hazard area, across Commercial Street from the neighborhood proper.
- Fulton Street (current private parking lot owned by BPDA) – Not recommended due to tunnel entrance, separation from parts of the neighborhood, mixed use options have architectural constraints, not centrally located and surrounded by high volume vehicular traffic. The flat space would have potential for mixed use public/private development with proximity to Greenway open space.
- Cooper Street Site (recently privately sold) – Not recommended – privately owned, high acquisition cost and insufficient area for a mixed use option.
- DeFilippo Playground (The Gassy, City Owned) – Not recommended – The “Gassy” is city-owned land and connected to a park. However, the topography would require extensive below grade construction, scaling back the existing park area and an awkward layout.
Expanding the existing Nazzaro Center would require building over the open space of the Polcari Playground and garden area. While an appropriate-sized community center could work, there would be no surrounding space for activities. The two BPDA (Boston Planning and Development Agency) sites were assessed as generally “too large” for just a community center and would require mixed use projects because they are currently “income sites” for the agency. The consultants also cited complexity as a deterrent in each of the sites, especially at Sargent’s Wharf where a new development would have to be built on a podium over the ground parking level which resides in a high risk flood zone.
The new community center cost is estimated at $45 million. City officials said the next step was to enter a design phase for the selected site alongside the Mirabella Pool. State Article 97 also comes into play for the use of open space parkland and could require a legislative approval. Located in a flood zone, mitigation and scaling the design will be required to absorb rising sea levels. City officials recently announced resiliency planning for the North End’s waterfront parcels.
After a 30 minute presentation, residents spent 1.5 hours commenting on the study results (33:00 minute mark in video). Discussed at length was the prospect of keeping two community centers, the new one plus the current Nazzaro as a senior center site. BCYF said they could not staff two sites and city officials said they were focused on consolidating all functions at the Mirabella site on the waterfront. Toward the end of the meeting, officials said they would work with the community to prepare for a transition before the existing Nazzaro is declared “surplus” so that a potential non-profit could be found to maintain the building for community use.
View the final study report published (pdf) on the Boston Centers for Youth and Families website. The 293-page document also includes results from the community surveys and feedback excerpts. The April 25, 2019 presentation followed that of a similar October 2018 meeting. Before that, there were two introductory meetings in 2017 centered around surveys on needs and site preferences.