Mirabella Pool Site Selected for New Community Center; Existing Nazzaro Future Uncertain

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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.

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Proposed new community center (in red) conceptual site plan

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.

The City’s final recommendation for a new North End community center adjacent to the Mirabella Pool, along side the US Coast Guard station on Commercial Street.

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.

Three site options were chosen for final pricing

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.

Community review excerpts showing strong support for the existing Nazzaro site at 53% (click to enlarge)

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.

View all NorthEndWaterfront.com Community Center coverage.

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20 COMMENTS

  1. I’m really excited about this! Having the new community center with all these other recreational resources makes a lot of sense. I even think the construction process will be less intrusive here. Let’s get it built!!!!

  2. The seniors at the meeting (who have lived in the North End all of their lives) were NOT happy with what they heard. For the city to cry poor mouth saying they cannot or would have a hard time funding staff to keep a Senior Ctr at the Nazzaro is laughable considering all of the revenue the North End brings to the city. What would you have to pay 3 or 4 staff member to work at the Senior Ctr? Meanwhile, the city is giving tax breaks to build glass towers all over the city.
    Boston is one of the most robust cities in the country and they can’t fund staff for a Senior Ctr separate from the Mirabella Pool sight? They city must think its residents are pretty naive.

    The proposed community center looks beautiful and I truly hope it gets built but not at the expense of abandoning the Nazzaro.

  3. The seniors need to stay in the Nazzaro Center. They are not going to Uber to Commercial Street and certainly are not going to climb Foster, Charter, or Hull Streets, especially in Winter. The new site is inaccessible to seniors–plain and simple.
    While the Harbor Walk was an important part of the original plan for development, it is absurd to sacrifice public open space for a few more feet of space. Since the Coast Guard Building is not going to move for the sake of the Harbor Walk, walkers will have to go to Commercial Street anyway. Let’s use some common sense.
    The City needs to commit to support continued community use of the Nazzaro Center now. That is the only solution which is responsive to the voice of the community. The City should work with other organizations to ensure that. Services for seniors should be expanded at the Nazzaro site.
    The new center will serve a broader community. Don’t squeeze in space for seniors who will not be using it.

    • Sorry Lucille I mean no disrespect towards the seniors but they are not the only people in the community. This is not about the seniors only. We do have many families and children who need and deserve a new center. Thank you!

      • Kids are not the only ones who live in the North End, Seniors are not against the new building , in fact most support it. What we are against is the city’s ( and parents) total disregard for the needs of senior citizens The city can hire one or two fewer six figure salaried tech types and hire 5 or 6 staff members for Nazzaro Senior center. Maybe a child care center could share the space . Or some other community group.
        Renovating the Nazzaro as a senior center , community meeting space would be THE RIGHT THING to do for the ENTIRE North End community.

  4. Since you brought up the idea of uber. You are aware that at least a half dozen of our seniors currently take either an actual cab, get regularly rides or take the shuttle service (the ride) to the center on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

    Are you also aware that the center is overflowing with kids and teens and no space who actually use the facility a majority of the time while the seniors only use it for several hours a week.

    My point, kids/teens need a new center.

    Now I would love to see the current center be refurbished for the seniors but not at the risk of losing anew facility.

  5. Would be a big disservice to pit seniors against kids in a decision about the North End community. I would caution you Joyce and anon. I think having senior resources that are accessible should be a priority.

      • Not being contrary but why do seniors need the Nazzaro? How much space do they actually need? What I am getting at is there any other space available they can use? They have about 20-25 seniors that play bingo on Tuesdays and Thursdays and wondering if there is another place for them that is centrally located that can satisfy their needs.

        • NE Resident: On the surface, that is a good question and excellent idea. But imagine a senior center that is more than bingo. There are many “seniors” who still work and who might participate in evening activities if they were available. There are others who don’t like bingo but might like zumba. Some senior centers offer “chair yoga” and stretch classes at reasonable rates. Chess/checkers. Ping pong. Movies. Art classes. A pool room. Think about people aged 60 to 90 who want to stay physically and mentally fit and socialize. The possibilities are endless. A real senior center not just a bingo room. And more space for younger people at the Commercial Street site.

  6. NE Resident: Sorry if I was not clear. I absolutely agree that a new center is needed but the location is not the right place for the seniors. This is not an either/or situation. This is an AND.
    Someone at the meeting raised the issue of the population in the Bulfinch Triangle/North Station. That guy should be commended for looking out a few years. The new site is going to serve a much larger population and needs to be big enough to accommodate it. I just think there are many good public uses for Nazzaro, including space for programs for those called “seniors”.
    I am suggesting that the community get city support. The city may not operate the programs but the city could get behind the need for a space closer to the heart of the neighborhood.
    Those who have been around a while will remember that the heart of the neighborhood once had room for an indoor roller rink (now housing), several schools (now housing), and both the North End Union and NBSIS serving families–in addition to the bath house.

  7. I agree with you Lucille! My only fear is that there are people in this community who are fighting so hard against this location that the city turns around and gives us nothing (or refurbished center) which by all accounts is not sufficient any longer. I would LOVE both locations.

    Has anyone looked at other locations besides the nazzaro for the seniors? One that may be centrally located. Just a thought.

  8. “The proposed community center looks beautiful and I truly hope it gets built but not at the expense of abandoning the Nazzaro.”

    Your words Anon. Not mine.

    This is the problem I am having because ppl say they want it but then say what you said above. Thereby sort of placing a contingency on the new center. It’s an “all or nothing” approach and that scares me for fear of losing a state of the art facility.

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