A third public meeting regarding the redesign of the Egleston Square branch of the Boston Public Library (BPL) was held on March 9, where the project team discussed the project scope and where they are in the planning process, as well as addressed questions and concerns from the community.
The meeting discussed potential programming for the new library, as well as the potential to add housing on top of the library as part of the project.
Maureen Anderson of the Boston Public Facilities Department first explained information about the project scope, which includes looking at the exiting library and its current condition, as well as its “ability to meet programmatic needs and sustainability goals.” Other goals include identifying demographic trends in the neighborhood, and looking at adding housing to the library, among other things.
So far, two other meetings were held, one in October of last year to gather information about things like existing conditions, demographics, goals of the BPL, and affordable housing.
In January, another public meeting was held to talk about ideas related to potential spaces within the new library and spaces for programming, as well as requirements for square footage and another discussion on affordable housing. This meeting also touched on those things and elicited feedback from residents.
Anderson said that at a future meeting in the spring, the team will present a review of the site and a “program fit test,” as well as further discuss “affordable housing approaches,” according to a slide presented. Then, in June of this year, a final report will be available that provides options for a library plus housing, as well as cost estimates and more detailed sustainability information.
Anderson then discussed two different schedules, one for just a new library, and one for a new library plus housing, with the latter taking longer.
Philip Chen of Ann Beha Architects said that the team is looking for more information and feedback that will help shape what kinds of programming and services are offered at the new library.
He explained that so far, the team has heard that residents believe that diversity should be at the forefront of the planning process, and input from those who regularly use the library is paramount. He also said that people believe that green space “is very important,” as is a place for the library Friends group to meet, classroom space, a large community room, and expanded Spanish language offerings, among other things.
Chen also talked briefly about sustainability goals for the project, saying that the project “will be required to achieve a LEED Silver rating or higher,” and the team is also aiming to make the building net zero as well.
“These guidelines are being developed,” he said.
Steve Gerard of Ann Beha Architects discussed potential library programming, much of which was presented at the last meeting. He presented ideas for an adult area, a teen area, and a children’s area, which will all include age-appropriate books and seating options. The children’s area will include children’s computers, as well as a “tween area” and a craft area, and a family restroom.
A potential community room would seat 100 people, and offer different layout options for different types of gatherings. Gerard also said it will include storage and a sink, as well as a sound system for different types of presentations.
The proposed classroom space could seat 20 people for things like smaller meetings, and would also feature cooking equipment and be located close to the library’s entrance.
Proposed study rooms could hod groups of four to six people, and offer space for small group work and would be located near the adult and teen areas. Gerard also said there would be improved spaces for staff and support as well.
Outside, the team has proposed seating for reading outdoors, a gardening space, an outdoor class space, and parking for bikes.
“The library will be increasing its size and will be a major improvement on the current library today,” Gerard said.
Much of the public comment had to do with ensuring that the team is reaching out to the right people and making sure they have a fair say in this process, as what happens on the library site will affect those who live in the immediate area as well as those who regularly depend on the library for various resources.
Hon. Louis Elisa of the Garrison Trotter Neighborhood Association raised some of the same issues, as well as wondered if the team had reached out to area schools, which are big users of the current library.
Resident Alvin Shiggs, who said he is a parishioner at St. Mary of the Angels, which is located right next to the library, said that the church would like to participate in the discussion, especially in any discussion related to housing as part of this project. He and several other neighbors asked the team about connecting with Spanish speaking communities.
“We’re doing our best to reach out to different communities,” Anderson said, adding that the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services, as well as the Department of Neighborhood Development, are helping with the outreach process.
Taylor Cain, Director of the Mayor’s Housing Innovation Lab, went through a brief presentation about affordable housing, including what the team has heard so far from the community. She said that people again feel that the focus should be on diversity within the community, affordable housing, having larger family sized units, sustainability, and there were a few suggestions that the property should be in a land trust.
In the survey that has been available throughout the process, Cain said that people expressed their desire to “keep current residents in the neighborhood,” according to a slide presented, as well as have a “mix of unit types for families and seniors,” and to limit parking on the site.
Cain also explained what types of housing is supported by the Department of Neighborhood Development, and a slide presented at the meeting reads “Affordable to DND primarily means housing affordable to households making 60% of Area Median Income (AMI) or below. 60% of AMI is about $71,000 a year for a family of four.”
Several residents made comments about the level of affordability, saying it should be closer to 40% AMI.
Denise Delgado, Executive Director of Egleston Square Main Street, said she believes that any affordable housing for this site should be for families.
Other residents, like Jacob Mathews, said he believes that “it’s a library first and foremost,” and that the focus should be placed on creating a great library for all, though he does recognize the “potential opportunity to meet the needs of affordable housing as well,” he said.
Cain said that the city is looking at models in other cities across the country that have combined library use with housing, and though most of them were rental units, residents wondered if there was a possibility for home ownership as well.
“I’m hearing a narrative that we’re looking at opportunities; that we’re going to be collaborating,” said resident Lavette Coney, adding that she feels that it “seems like it has to be housing on top of the library,” and no other options are being considered.
George Lee of Keep it 100 for Egleston, which is “fighting for affordable housing in Egleston and preventing displacement,” said that if any housing is built on the site, “it should be 100 percent affordable, but not fake affordable.”
Coney said to the team, “make sure you’re getting all different perspectives. Some conversations are going to be uncomfortable.” She said that “if you’re serious about doing this work,” many different voices will be included in the conversation.
Chen said that next steps include taking the survey if people have not already, which is available on the project page at bpl.org/egleston-square-project/. Another public meeting will be held in the spring, but a date has yet to be announced. For all other information related to the project, visit the project page on the BPL website, and for questions related to affordable housing and the planning stages for this project, reach out to Taylor Cain at [email protected]