First community meeting held for Egleston Square Branch renovation

The first public meeting regarding renovation of the Egleston Square branch of the Boston Public Library (BPL)  was held on October 29, where the public was invited to listen to the project proponents and make comments or ask questions about the future of the library.

BPL President David Leonard said that this meeting is the first in a series of meetings about the Egleston Square branch, and that renovations to this branch have “long been advocated for by members of the community.”  

 Leonard said that there has been a “very robust investment in our branch system and the system as a whole” over the past seven to 10 years, and thanked Marty Walsh’s investment in the library system “at unprecedented levels.”

With many BPL branches currently under construction or recently renovated, including the Jamaica Plain and Roxbury branches, the Egleston Square branch is due for some updates.

Leonard said that a library renovation begins with a programming study, followed by design, and then construction. 

“The programming study looks at the conditions of the branch, the desires and needs of the community, and the expertise of library staff,” he said.

For this branch, the BPL and the project team are considering two options: a renovation of just the library itself, or a renovation of the library plus the addition of affordable housing to create a mixed use building.

Maureen Anderson of the Boston Public Facilities Department spoke a little bit about the scope of the project, which she said includes the evaluation of the physical condition of the existing building, identifying demographic trends in the neighborhood, strengthening the connection to the Egleston Square neighborhood, and more. 

The programming study is a 12 month process split into three phases: information gathering, the development of program options, then settling final planning options. She said the study will be completed in June.

Philip Chen of Ann Beha Architects said that even if the affordable housing option is chosen, the main focus of the project is “a revitalized library for the Egleston Square neighborhood and the community.”

He talked about some of the pillars of the BPL system, including providing knowledge, information, and technology access to young children, teens, and adults. 

Taylor Cain, the director of Boston’s Housing Innovation Lab, talked about Housing With Public Assets, which she said looks at how the needs of Bostonians can be met through public buildings such as libraries.

She said that a goal of the project is to “prioritize thoughtful design principles as we think about both the library uses and how library and housing uses can interact together.”

For library programming, demographics will be looked at when determining what programming will be most beneficial to this neighborhood, the team said. They also said that the current location for the library is a good one for this neighborhood, as it is close to public transit and easily accessible on Columbus Ave. right on the border between Jamaica Plain and Roxbury.

Steve Gerard of Ann Beha Architects said that the existing building itself is “in fair condition,” as it was built in the 1950s. The library is a fairly small box, but positives include its location on Columbus Ave., its open floor plan inside, lots of daylight thanks to windows on the north and south sides, and outdoor space. 

“The building definitely is in need of some improvement,” he said, as it is small and all spaces inside are” undersized, especially the community room.” He said that there is also a lack of technology and the space feels dated and has accessibility and energy efficiency issues.

Gerard said that existing areas that need improvement include the entry, the service desk, the adult, children and teen areas, the community room (to be updated with a maximum of 100 seats), staff work areas, restrooms, and garden space that can double as educational space.

He said that possible new areas could include a multi-purpose classroom for different ages and different types of programs, as well as study rooms.

He then talked about the potential for Housing With Public Assets, which could include different types of housing, varying numbers of units, how tall the building should be, and how the units could be arranged, as well as how the housing and the library space could interact.

Anderson explained that a developer would own the housing portion of the building, as “the BPL is not in the business of managing housing,” she said.

He said that the team will start to look at some options and present them to the community in the new year at the next public meeting. 

“The diversity of this neighborhood is something that we find both unique and special…” Chen said. “These libraries are for neighborhoods; they’re for the users of these neighborhoods…we want to make sure that the library does serve the interests of those in this neighborhood and all its diversity.”

Many residents advocated for any housing to be 100 percent affordable at income levels consistent with the residents in the neighborhood. Other suggestions included more open space and a cafe with hot coffee and tea for people to enjoy while at the library. 

“Our plan now is to take the feedback and research and incorporate them into the programming of the library and the housing,” Chen said. After coming up with some options and testing different ones out, the team will come back to the community later on this winter.

More information about the programming study can be found on the BPL website, along with the community survey. Additionally, paper copies of the survey are available for pickup and drop-off at the Egleston branch.

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