A fourth community meeting regarding the redesign of the Egleston Square branch of the Boston Public Library was held on May 18, with the main purpose of looking at planning options and how different programs would work with the library site.
Maureen Anderson of the city’s Public Facilities Department said that the study process for this project began in July of last year, and is preparing to wrap up next month.
“The study is only one part of a total project process,” she said. There are two ways the project could move forward: as a standalone library, or the library plus affordable housing on top.
Architect Philip Chen said that the “feedback that we’ve received from everybody has been super helpful for this study,” and went over some of the things that the team has heard from the public during the information gathering phase.
He said that people desire multi-use programming spaces, a large community meeting room plus some smaller ones, outdoor space is important, programming for children, space for local artists, a pickup/dropoff area, modern technology, and study rooms. For the possible housing portion, he said that the team heard that “affordability is paramount,” and housing for seniors, families, and young adults is important. Sustainability is also important to folks, as is allowing current residents to remain in the neighborhood. There was mixed feedback about offering parking on site, as some said they wanted it and some said they didn’t, and there was also discussion of rental versus ownership for the units.
Architect Steve Gerard discussed some of the potential library programming for the adult, teen, and children’s areas, as well as for the community room, classroom, and small meeting rooms.
He said that the community room would be able to seat 100 people and be able to be laid out in various ways, as well as a multimedia sound system for lectures, community meetings, classes, and more.
The classroom could seat up to 20 people and could be used for training sessions and small meetings, and the small meeting rooms could hold four to six people and would feature whiteboards and AV hookups.
The outdoor space would offer a gardening area, as well as a children’s reading and learning area, Gerard said, with “connections to the surrounding neighborhood.” Bicycle parking would also be available, and all paved areas will be ADA accessible. Seating options are also part of the proposal.
Taylor Cain, Director of the city’s Housing Innovation Lab, discussed some details of what the housing program could look like.
According to a slide, “the study has not made any decisions on the types of affordable housing,” but “as a placeholder, the study is using a mixture of studio, 1, 2, and 3 bedroom units. The Department of Neighborhood Development will continue the Community Conversation on types of affordable housing before a request for proposals (RFP) is advertised.”
Cain also discussed some “key considerations” when it comes to co-locating the library space with housing, including how the building will relate to the surrounding neighborhood, as well as the coordination between the different uses of the building.
Additionally, she talked about “understanding the challenges and opportunities” of such a mixed-used development, including the project timeline, financing, and traffic concerns.
She also talked about “outlining the potential of co-locating housing and libraries,” according to a slide, including “promoting more creativity in use and redevelopment of public buildings; meeting citywide and neighborhood housing needs; and fostering climate, social, and economic resilience.”
Cain said that “we really see this as an opportunity to help meet some of our larger citywide and also neighborhood housing needs and and goals and think about this as really a potential to bring families closer to public transportation and other essential resources offered by our library branches by really creating an opportunity for creating housing that communities can afford and build savings in.”
Architect Ashley Merchant then went over the program test fits, and made it clear that “this is a test of the program on the site and not a final design of the library.”
She said that the area where the library is is “zoned for multi-family residential,” and also “falls within the JP/Rox master plan area.”
The height is limited to 45 feet by zoning, but “the JP/Rox master plan includes a density bonus for affordable housing” that allows for a height of 55 feet and five stories. There are no limits on Floor Area Ratio, she said. She also discussed setbacks allowed by zoning.
She discussed two different options for the building: one with a single story library plus four stories of housing, for a total of five stories, as well as a single story library plus five stories of housing, for a total of six stories.
She said that the team has “looked for ways to locate the library program on the site” that would “maximize the usefulness of the outdoor space that would be created.”
Merchant also discussed two potential ways for siting the building. The first one was to set the building in the back corner of the site, leaving space in the front and side for a garden and outdoor space. There would be plantings, tables, chairs, and benches, as well as gardening space. The entrance to the library would be in the middle of the building, and the housing entrance would be at the corner.
Inside the library space, the left side would be more open, and the “more enclosed programs” would be featured on the right side of the entrance. There would be a lot of windows for the spaces adjacent to the outdoor space.
The second approach was to “notch” the building on the south side for a “deeper reading garden,” and also leaves room for the outdoor space on the front of the building.
Inside the library for this option would feature the classroom between the adult and children’s areas, which “helps to divide those two areas from each other,” Merchant said. The teen area is by itself next to the community room, and the outdoor space is in front of the building with a roof terrace for the housing.
Currently, there is no parking on site, and only street parking is offered in the area.
According to the presentation, during the site parking study, it was determined that “adding a ramp would significantly reduce available space for the library program,” and underground parking is very expensive and would not be feasible with affordable housing, Merchant said.
She said that removing two of the street parking spaces to create a driveway and curb cut would “significantly reduce green space,” and “create an additional driveway on site and pedestrian conflicts,” according to a slide.
Right now on the site, there is a five minute dropoff/pickup area, and Merchant also discussed an option to have five street parking spaces in front of the library that would have various restrictions on them.
The team said that once the study is completed in June, it will be available on the Boston Public Library website and will include community feedback.
According to the presentation, “the study will require city approvals and funding in the capital plan. Once funded, DND will begin the community engagement process to determine the Affordable Housing’s unit types, percentages of affordability, and other community requirements for the RFP.”
There were several comments made about the fact that no proposal was shown for just the one story library with no housing on top, even though some residents expressed that they would like to see a standalone library.
“We believe that the approach one and two can meet a standalone library fit test,” Anderson said. “The BPL prefers a one-story library that has great sight lines and provides excellent services to the community and has a flexible floor plan.”
She said that with the removal of the housing portion, either option would “still be a very acceptable approach to a standalone library.”
Some residents then said that they would like to see a version with just the library shown.
Another question was raised about having fewer floors for the housing portion, as some residents feel the proposed building would be too tall in the area.
“The thing that’s helpful to reiterate,” Cain said, is that “Egleston Square…has a really diverse range of building typologies,” including single families, triple deckers, two families, and other apartment buildings.
She also said that the team has to discuss funding and “what size project has the greatest potential of receiving funding for the development of affordable housing.”
Chen added, “this is in the range of what we think would be feasible,” in reference to the proposed number of floors.
Merchant discussed results from one of the polls conducted during the meeting, stating that 38 percent of respondents said that they only wanted to see the standalone library with no housing, 33 percent wanted to see the library plus four stories of housing, and 13 percent said they wanted to see the library and five stories of housing. She said that 21 percent said they wanted to see “as much housing as possible.”
Anderson said that nothing is finalized yet, and the team still wants to hear from the public about what they want to see on the site.
“This is a process,” she said, “so we can explore different approaches. Please don’t hesitate to let us know your thoughts and continue the dialogue on this project.”
The community survey for the project is still open, and can be found at bpl.org/egleston-square-project, along with more information about the proposal and videos from all community meetings held so far and a feedback form for the project.