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Tufts, Somerville to repurpose Powder House School

Published: Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Updated: Wednesday, January 15, 2014 08:01


Caroline Geiling / The Tufts Daily

Tufts is preparing to hold a series of public meetings on its proposed redevelopment of the Powder House Community School (PHCS).

The 88,000-square foot property sits adjacent to the Tufts Administration Building (TAB). According to Ward 7 Alderwoman Katjana Ballantyne, local residents have been concerned with future plans for the building’s reuse since its closure 10 years ago.

In December 2012, Somerville submitted a Request for Proposals (RFP) to reuse the property in a way that would adhere to certain standards laid out by a community task force of residents, Ballantyne said.

Tufts was one of around a dozen groups that submitted a proposal, Director of Community Relations Barbara Rubel and Director of Public Relations Kimberly Thurler told the Daily in an email.

“We have been participating in the community process around the reuse of the Powder House School property for several years,” Rubel and Thurler said. “Since it is adjacent to the TAB, we wanted to be aware of any development that was being considered for the site. By the time the RFP was issued, we had decided that we wanted to bid on the project.”

Tufts proposal, organized under the guidance of Vice President for Operations Linda Snyder has two plans currently on the table, Rubel said. 

According to Ballantyne, one option includes a large office building, a smaller office building and green space while the other option includes a large office building, residential housing and green space.

“One goal is to create a public park, at least the size of the existing playground,” Rubel and Thurler said. “Our proposal knits the Powder House and TAB sites together and creates a park that stretches from Broadway to Holland Street.”

The RFP standards required the maintenance of the right-of-way access from Packard Avenue to Holland Street and of the green space that is currently on the property, Ballantyne said.

“The RFP had very specific parameters and we worked, in a relatively short time, to develop a plan that would provide useful space for university office and program needs, complement the TAB site and [its] uses and meet the city’s goals,” Rubel and Thurler said.

Rubel and Thurler explained that the team responsible for developing the plan included members of university staff, representatives from the architecture firm ADD, Inc. and a landscape designer, among others. 

“The plan was developed with the city’s requirements in mind and a keen understanding of the university’s space needs,” Rubel and Thurler said. “ADD, Inc. was already working with Tufts on the 574 Boston Avenue project. The firm has a strong reputation for understanding academic buildings and community process and was able to help us develop the proposal to submit it on time.”

According to Ballantyne, a 15-member Technical Advisory Committee, comprised of Ward 7 residents, elected officials and city employees was formed to review the submitted proposals.

“They chose the Tufts proposal with a strong vote of support,” Rubel and Thurler said. “Our proposal is conceptual because we will be working closely with the neighborhood to refine the plan and flesh out the details of the structure(s) and park. The city requires close collaboration with the neighbors -— which is a process that we follow with any development project.”

At this point the university has completed the city’s Exclusive Negotiating Agreement (ENA), which commits the city to working only with Tufts and outlines what must be done in the next three months, Rubel and Thurler said.

Ballantyne said that there are still three stages of public process that Tufts’ proposal must go through before it may be approved by the city. The first phase includes design meetings hosted by Tufts and ADD, Inc. to determine exactly what will be built.

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