The opening of the fully-completed Clark Avenue Middle School is just about one month away, and work crews are finishing up the final preparations to welcome students into the completed new school project – after more than three years and two phases of construction.
“I think we’re shooting for substantial completion by the middle of August,” said Gerry McCue of the Chelsea Schools. “Teachers go back on Aug. 27 and students come into the new school on Aug. 29. We expect to have the school operational then. There will be punch list items to get to, but nothing major will be left.”
The completion of Phase 2 will mark the end of the $57 million project that started under former City Manager Jay Ash, and was carried out by City Manager Tom Ambrosino and the School Department.
Already, Phase 1 opened in December 2017, and students and teachers have been using half of the school since that time. The former building, the Old Chelsea High, had been completely demolished earlier this year to make way for Phase 2.
Demolition of the other side of the old high school started in March 2015, when the project first got off the ground.
With the addition of the Phase 2 building, the school will be introduced to many of the amenities, including the gym, an auditorium, a small performance stage, the library, technology labs, art rooms, music rooms, an administrative suite and the new front courtyard facing Crescent and Clark Avenues.
“In addition to things like the gym, there will be a smaller performance space and things can be done on that stage and the cafeteria can be used for seating,” he said. “Larger productions can be done in the auditorium. That’s important because the Clark Ave is the feeder program for the Chelsea High Drama Club, so they have an emphasis on music and performing arts at the Clark Avenue.”
The courtyard will be a very welcome addition to the school and the neighborhood, he said. The space was designed to open up to Crescent and Clark Avenues so that the buildings are pushed back and the space seem more open and inviting. He said the possibilities are endless for the new space.
“We could do outdoor performances or in the summer the City could have a movie night for the neighborhood out there,” he said. “There will be seating and decking in the courtyard. There will also be a school garden there too. There has been a big emphasis on school gardens across the district and the Clark Ave will have one too.”
He said that the top floors are pretty much completed, and many classrooms are set up now. He said the bottom floor is still having work done – as the contractor started from the top and worked down.
As it is, the action is aplenty on the site as the final work is completed.
“There’s just a lot of activity there now and it will be non-stop until the first day of school,” he said.
The Clark Avenue School is expected to have 668 students when it opens in August.
The City is preparing to begin construction on the final leg of a five-phase infrastructure redevelopment of Everett Avenue – focusing this construction season on the stretch between Carter Street and Route 16.
The $2 million state-funded project will represent the last of five areas that have been completely rebuilt with sidewalks, road reconstruction, lighting and other amenities.
“We’ve finished all of the environmental studies and design and engineering and we’ve hired GTA Company of Everett as the contractor,” said Planner Alex Train. “We’ll be commencing construction sometime in May.”
City Manager Tom Ambrosino said it is exciting to be able to finish something that has been going on for so long.
“We’ve excited to finally complete the final part of the Everett Avenue Urban Renewal Area,” he said. “It should tie in with the development of the Fairfield apartment buildings where the Chelsea Clock building was at. We’re looking forward to this proceeding to construction.”
The Everett Avenue infrastructure project began some years ago when the new Market Basket opened, and proceeded through the area one step at a time using the MassWorks state grants.
“We’ve had five total years and five grants,” said Train. “It’s exciting and it’s exciting that it’s spurring the economic development in the area like the FBI and One North. It’s a dramatic improvement and we’re excited to see it come to a finished point…We still want to rehabilitate Spruce Street between Everett Avenue and Williams Street, but I think we’ll be looking to the downtown Broadway next.”
The current project this year will involve putting in new water mains, new fire hydrants, new sidewalks, ornamental lighting, a full-depth reconstruction of the roadway and improvements to the Carter Street/Everett Avenue intersection at Chelsea High School.
“We’re also coordinating with DCR, who controls the light at the Parkway, to make sure they are synchronized and work in tandem,” he said.
The construction schedule will run for one year and will continue until October of this year, picking up in the spring of 2019 with the final paving.
Beyond that, Ambrosino said they would apply for another MassWorks grant for 2019 that would focus on downtown Broadway.
“I think the focus is now going to move to the downtown for this grant,” he said. “I think our construction costs for what we want to do downtown are going to exceed the $5 million the City has thus far authorized.”
He said the City could potentially get $2 million to $3 million in MassWorks funding to add to the City money already set aside for Broadway rehabilitation. Those two resources should give the City a huge jump on funding improvements to Broadway corridor next spring and summer.
The contract for the multi-year Mystic/Tobin Bridge Rehabilitation project will begin on April 1 for the first full year of construction on the upper and lower decks of the Bridge.
The project is fully separate from the controversial Chelsea Viaduct project – which is adjacent to this project – and is still in the design phase.
JF White received its notice to proceed last October and the contract begins on April 1, which will clear them to move in and begin work, particularly on the Lower Deck (outbound) part of the Bridge. The Lower Deck in each of the three-years will have one lane closed for concrete structure repairs.
Another major component will be the temporary closures at different points during the year of the Everett Avenue on-ramp, the Beacon Street off-ramp and the Fourth Street off-ramp.
“The Lower Deck is a little more involved because it requires milling and paving and replacement of the existing concrete deck,” said John McInerney of MassDOT. “It’s a steel grid so it’s a little more tedious to replace that concrete. Because of worker safety and the fact that the work is tedious and we have to pour concrete and let it cure, the three lanes on the Lower Deck will be down to two throughout the job.”
On the first year, this year, that will be the right lane of traffic that will be closed outbound. On the second year, it will be the left lane, and on the third year, the middle lane.
Paving and milling operations on the Upper Deck (inbound) is less intrusive and will only be done in off-peak hours with no lane closures expected.
The ramp closures will likely be the most impactful thing for Chelsea residents this year, but McInerney said they will not close multiple ramps at the same time for construction. They will do one at a time.
The first ramp up will be the Everett Avenue on-ramp, which is in deplorable shape.
He said it will likely be closed from late April to May.
“We are going to want them to really focus on that when they close a ramp,” he said. “We aren’t going to let them close a ramp and only work on it three hours a day. We want them to get it done as quickly as possible.”
Once that is done, they will move to close the Beacon Street off-ramp for two months. When it is completed, they will move to close the Fourth Street off-ramp for about one month. That is anticipated to happen in November.
“The bottom line is these three ramp closures are anticipated for this construction season and they won’t close simultaneously,” he said. “They have to have to come one after the other.”
He added that the MBTA is working with them to talk about changes to bus routes that use those ramps.
McInerney said there will also be extensive steel repairs on the Bridge, but the extent isn’t totally known right now. Once crews are able to set up access points, they will be able to examine the steel more closely.
McInerney said before JF White proceeds on April 1, there will be a community meeting to address any concerns. Dates for those meetings are forthcoming.
The project contract ends each Nov. 30 for the three-year period.
Several Chelsea organizations are pulling together this year to sponsor an entire month’s-worth of events around Black History Month, and the events will kick off tonight, Feb. 1, at City Hall with a presentation on the Latimer Society.
“It’s a very, very well put together program and it’s put together by a collaborative effort of many folks and organizations,” said Joan Cromwell of the Chelsea Black Community (CBC). “A lot of us came together and we’ve scheduled a great program for February. It went well last year, but this year we wanted it to be even more exciting.”
Those involved include Salma Taylor and Bea Cravatta of the City, the Latimer Society, Bunker Hill Community College, CAPIC, Chelsea Cable, the People’s AME Church, City Manager Tom Ambrosino, the CBC, and many local residents.
Kicking things off will be Ron and Leo Robinson of the Latimer Society.
Other highlights include a Taste of Culture Cook-Off on Feb. 19 at La Luz de Cristo at 738 Broadway.
There will also be an intergenerational open mic night, an art exhibit, and an evening of performing arts.
Cromwell said at the end of the month, they will have a celebration at the Williams School.
Within that, they will present eight Trailblazer Awards. Those receiving awards will be:
After hundreds of athletic banquets, wedding receptions and a whose who list of Chelsea political functions, that history all came tumbling down last Friday when the French Naturalization Club on Spencer Avenue was demolished for affordable housing.
Crews secured the area last Thursday, and began the demo on Friday – taking down the old Function Hall that many had known from the old days of political times or youth sports banquets. By the end of it’s stretch, though, it had seen better times, as a man was murdered in the Club during a party a few years ago.
That led to the Club’s end, and it became vacant until The Neighborhood Developers (TND) purchased the property for an affordable housing development.
That development was controversial when Mill Hill neighbors learned late in the game of TND’s plans to put up the housing.
That sparked a vigorous debate throughout the community two years ago, and led to a scaling back of the project and a return of the Spencer Avenue Extension to the City so cars could continue using it.
Now, the project will include 34 units of affordable rental housing in a brand new building that will feature a community space on the bottom floor and the activation of the sidewalks with front porches on ground-floor units.
City Manager Tom Ambrosino said TND has its permits and its financing in place. They are ready to commence the construction phase now.
Reclaimed space is at an all-time high in today’s modern cities, and Chelsea is leading the way this month with the soon-to-be unveiled Mystic River Overlook Park – a rare stretch of City-owned parcels under the Mystic/Tobin Bridge that have been transformed into a funky new park.
The space was long a construction staging yard and was highly contaminated, but it has been environmentally remediated and now walking paths, historic lighting and lush green grass have replaced the blight under the bridge near Admiral’s Hill.
“We spent a lot of money cleaning the site up,” said Alex Train, City planner. “We took out a lot of soil and construction debris and contamination. We trucked in lots of clean soil and replaced it…We tried to create a design philosophy that tended to mimic the edges in the architecture of the bridge, so there are three or four wavy walking paths that curve through the park and allow you walk through and under the bridge. We envision this as an active park for exercise.”
The City has placed cross-fit equipment in the new park, and envision the lush new lawn to be used for Yoga, exercise classes or other activities.
The remainder of the new park is more of a passive area with seats and areas to view the water and Boston skyline. Another City-owned parcel at the foot of the new park has been designated for the City’s first off-leash dog park. That, however, is a separate project from the Mystic River Overlook.
“We are now about two weeks away from opening the Overlook and just trying to tie up the loose ends,” said Train. “We were able to bring it in under the allotted budget as well.”
One of the action items for the near future of the park is to identify some public art opportunities. All over Greater Boston, cities are using spaces under bridges and highways as hip, urban landscapes for public art.
In Chelsea, a small piece of that was delved into last year with a small mural at the Everett Avenue onramp courtesy of the organization of Chelsea artists like Joe Greene.
Train said he hopes to have something more expansive in the Overlook.
“We are contemplating public art opportunities there,” he said. “It’s definitely a funky terrain and it’s a prime place for an art installation and unique lighting.”
He said they are working with the Cultural Council right now to identify local artists who might be interested.
The ability for the City to be able to create the park was unique because the City actually owned the parcels. On the other side of the Bridge in Charlestown, that community has been hamstrung by state red tape in being able to utilize vast tracts of land under the Bridge. That’s also an issue in Chelsea further into the Bridge approach area.
Train said the three land parcels belonged to the City because they had been transferred from the federal government to the City when the old Naval Hospital closed down.
“Everything else under Route 1, though, is state-owned,” he said.
That doesn’t hamper a larger vision, nonetheless.
Train said they hope the Overlook is just the first piece of what could be a series of parks, green spaces, bike paths and pedestrian paths throughout the underside of the Bridge.
Already, the state has plans to build a new public parking lot under the Bridge as it embarks on an upcoming maintenance project over the next three years. That could be the impetus, Train said, for more thoughtful park planning.
“That is something we envision,” he said. “We’d like to create an entire network under the Bridge for pedestrian walkways, open green spaces and public landscaped promenades.”
Funding for the Overlook came through a state PARC grant of $400,000 and another appropriation from the City Council.
Quirk Construction built the park, and the landscape architect was CBA.
The City is in the midst of significant roadway and utility work, which includes paving of roads, sidewalk improvements and related water, sewer and drainage improvements. These are all projects that the City has funded through a combination of Capital Improvement Funds or state Chapter 90 monies.
Tudor/Lawrence/Clark/Crescent — This is complete reconstruction of water, sewer and drainage infrastructure, as well as new streets and sidewalks, for the portion of these streets surrounding the New Clark Avenue Middle School. Construction is ongoing. The goal is to complete by the end of this Calendar Year 2017. The next Abutters Meeting for this project will take place on Wed. July 12 at 6 p.m. in the City Council Chambers at City Hall.
Shurtleff St. – This is complete reconstruction of water, sewer and drainage infrastructure as well as new street and sidewalk work on Shurtleff Street from Broadway to Congress Avenue. The work has just commenced. The first abutters meeting for this project will be today, Thurs. July 6 at 6 p.m. in the City Council Chambers at City Hall.
Garfield Ave – Isolated sidewalk work has been completed. Milling on roadway is now completed, and the remaining Roadway work is scheduled for mid-July.
Suffolk Street – Sidewalks completed. Roadwork is scheduled for mid-July.
Lynn Street Extension – Sidewalk work will begin in early July, and roadwork is also scheduled for mid-July.
Lower Broadway – Sidewalk work will begin mid-July; Roadwork scheduled for late summer.
Locke Street – Sidewalk work will begin in mid-August, with roadwork scheduled for late summer.
Beacon Place/High St./Pine St./Howell Ct. – State Chapter 90 sidewalk work is possible in the Fall, with paving in the spring of 2018.
Woodlawn/Winthrop/Hysil/Meadow – State Chapter 90 sidewalk work is possible in the Fall, with paving in the spring of 2018.
Hawthorn Street Road / sidewalks – Sidewalk work will commence in June of 2018 and will occur throughout the summer, along with roadway repaving that will follow.
Everett Avenue Reconstruction – This is complete reconstruction of water, sewer, drainage, and all attendant infrastructure on Everett Avenue from Carter Street to Rt. 16. This project also calls for full depth roadway reconstruction, reconstruction of all sidewalks and crossings, installation of street trees, and the replacement of traffic signalization equipment at the intersection of Carter Street and Everett Avenue. Construction is projected to commence in the Fall of 2017.
City Manager Tom Ambrosino is putting his money where his mouth has been in talking up his hopes for the downtown Broadway area – requesting the Council approve nearly $300,000 from Free Cash to dive into a major organizational and marketing effort for the area.
That request followed a call for major money to be delivered in the City Budget this spring, money the Council did approve within its Capital Improvement plan.
For the Downtown Urban Initiative, first, he is calling for the creation of a downtown coordinator job position to be funded, a position that would coordinate all of the construction projects, infrastructure upgrades and business opportunities in the district. The position would be similar to what Boston calls a Main Streets director, he said.
“The position is critical to the program,” he said. “This new municipal employee would be responsible for coordination of all the City’s downtown efforts. The coordinator will be expected to organize all programming for the area, oversee all municipal services in the area and work with the property and business owners to implement efforts to enhance and enliven the streetscape.”
A second part of the proposed program is a $100,000 plan to institute a one-year storefront improvement program for the corridor, which stretches from City Hall to Williams Street.
“Maybe we can do three or four storefronts to get a start this year,” he said. “We would do it as a matching grant program where we would pay half the cost and the owner would pay the other half. We would probably only require that if you participate in the program, we would ask businesses to take down the grates and have some faith that we can effectively police the downtown area.”
He said the initiative also calls for a little bit of “seed money” for festivals and events to be held on the corridor, possibly closing down the street.
To begin things, he has asked that the Council do a marketing study of the district for around $80,000.
Already, a consultant paid for within the recently passed City Budget, Nygaart, is preparing to start studying the corridor on July 1 for infrastructure improvements and traffic calming measures. That consultant was part of a budget allocation for the downtown within the Capital Improvements plan that asked for several million dollars to fund downtown infrastructure improvements only. The first part of that plan is the contracting of Nygaart. They will study potential improvements to the “bones” of the district for one year, with implementation of their suggestions and the public’s input next fiscal year.
The $300,000 Downtown Urban Initiative request is seemingly separate, but related to the overall effort – with it mostly focusing on marketing studies and storefront programs. In essence, it would be the creation of what in Boston is called a Main Streets District.
On top of all of those changes for the downtown district, Ambrosino has submitted a zoning change package scheduled for a public hearing on Monday, June 27, at Council that – among many, many things – asks for a relaxing of the parking requirements in the downtown area.
Ambrosino said the current parking requirements basically make the downtown buildings unreachable for residential developers as they were mostly built before cars appeared on the streets.
He said he firmly believes that the final piece of the overall puzzle is getting residents living in quality units above the businesses.
“My opinion is very straightforward that if we want this vibrant downtown, we have to build good residential units above the storefronts,” he said. “There’s no parking there and so you have to relax the parking requirements. If you want to improve the downtown, you have to substantially relax the parking requirements for residences above storefronts. If you don’t want to improve the downtown and leave it the way it is, then don’t relax the parking requirements and nothing will be developed because the parking requirements cannot be met.”
He also said the time is now to develop the downtown for residences and businesses – just as 10 years ago the time was perfect for Everett Avenue.
“I think it’s an interesting corridor that’s very close to downtown Boston,” he said. “People are being priced out of East Boston and this is the time to really build this downtown.”
Though buses could be rolling on the new Silver Line extension in Chelsea one year from now, the second phase of the project – which includes a key commuter rail station and downtown Silver Line station – lies in peril as the state Transportation Department waits on word of a crucial federal grant.
“There is a funding issue with the construction of Phase 2,” said City Manager Tom Ambrosino. “I believe the MBTA is putting in a TIGER grant for the funding. We’re hoping that will be successful. If that doesn’t work, we’ll have to look at alternate options. We’re certainly hoping that works out. It’s an important project for Chelsea and for the state.”
Phase 2 of the project includes relocating the commuter rail station from its current location and building a brand new station adjacent to the Mystic Mall. It also includes building a Silver Line Station downtown under the Washington Avenue Bridge – a station that is believed to be the busiest in the entire new network. Phase 2 also includes the signals at all grade intersections.
The Silver Line Phase 1 project is currently on time and potentially ready to roll in spring 2017.
“Phase 1 is still fully funded and the design for Phase 2 is fully funded as well,” said Ambrosino. “Nothing is being held up in terms of that phase and the MBTA indicates they are on time. We expect them to being offering service in early 2017.”
Meanwhile, the Washington Avenue Bridge project, which has been closed to all traffic since last July, could come on line in September.
However, that too, could be threatened by the Verizon phone worker strike – as the utility is responsible for re-installing utility lines on the bridge when it is completed.
“The Washington Avenue Bridge is open northbound to emergency vehicles only as requested by the City of Chelsea since Jan. 16,” said Ryan Grannan-Doll of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (DOT). “The second phase of the Washington Avenue Bridge is scheduled to be completed by September 2016. They also estimate the bridge would reopen in September. However, the completion date could be delayed due to the ongoing Verizon strike.”
Ambrosino said he is hoping that the MBTA prevails in getting the grant, as it will make the new system much better.
“It will work with just Phase 1, but won’t be as vibrant and aesthetically pleasing as it would be with Phase 2,” said Ambrosino.
For more than 25 years, the Federal courts have been monitoring the quality and necessary cleanup of Boston Harbor as submitted by the Massachusetts Water Resource Authority. The final report as ordered by the courts was submitted March 18, 2016.
Those of us who grew up in the Boston area and enjoyed the local beaches can still remember how the water quality continued to deteriorate in the 1960s and 1970s, culminating to the point where, in an infamous 1988 presidential advertisement, Boston Harbor was named as the most polluted harbor in the country.
Since then, much has changed for the better, but at a tremendous cost to local ratepayers. For some users, the water bills that for years had been a few hundred dollars a year have skyrocketed to thousands of dollars a year. Older cities like Revere had been fined hundreds of thousands of dollars in order to repair outdated and inefficient water and sewer lines.
The bottom line has been that Boston Harbor has seen a resurgence in marine life, with herds of seals living in the Harbor and whale spottings off the coast of Revere last year.
Beaches like Constitution Beach in East Boston, once closed for many days during a summer heat wave due to dangerous water quality issues, are now open. Residents can now safely swim in the Charles River, but in the 1970s, if one fell into the water, a tetanus shot was required immediately.
Organizations like Save the Harbor/Save the Bay can now focus on the positive aspects that living on the coast can afford residents, rather than continually fighting for the basics like better water quality.
However, while much has been done for the water quality, much still remains to be done. There are still many brownfields along waterways like the Mystic River that leach chemicals into the water. The Wynn organization has spent tens of millions of dollars in cleaning up the contaminated planned casino site in Everett. In Boston, homeowners are now required to spend thousands of dollars in neighborhoods like the South End and Back Bay on water filtration systems to take the rain runoff from the roofs and put into the ground rather than run off the ground.
All these are positive examples of more than 30 years of hard work and billions of dollars to bring back the water quality to acceptable levels.
Today, one can be optimistic about the future of the Harbor, but also guarded. Massachusetts’ politicians have always shown the willingness to spend money on public projects, but not the resolve to fund the maintenance of these projects. Our deteriorating infrastructure and the transit system are two examples of billions having been spent in the construction phase, but then grossly underfunded for maintenance.
Living on the coast, given the fact that our population is growing, our water environment is safe for now. But if our current strong water status, gained from impressive public effort and extraordinary cost, are not constantly monitored going forward, then we will find ourselves back in the same place, a place of public danger and national ridicule, when songs were sung like “Love That Dirty Water” in the 1970s and being named as the most polluted harbor in America in 1988.