Thursday, February 24, 2011

Preserving a Community in Brighton

HBI congratulates the volunteers of the Presentation School Foundation Inc. as they break ground this week on the rehabilitation of the 1929 Our Lady of the Presentation School in Brighton’s Oak Square. A group of Brighton residents, the Foundation has been working for several years to convert the former parochial school into a multi-tenant community center that will house year-round, full-day programs for children, families, recent immigrants and the diverse Allston-Brighton community.

The Our Lady of the Presentation School is a landmark that visually defines Oak Square in Brighton. It is significant for its association with Irish immigration and the growth of the Catholic Church in Boston. With its hipped roof of Spanish clay tiles, it is also a beautiful example of Renaissance Revival-style architecture.

It takes a pretty selfless, caring community to develop and execute on a vision like the Presentation School Community Center. Their work – an incredible list of achievements-– is considerable. This group of volunteers

• purchased the former school from the Boston Catholic Archdiocese;
• recruited St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center, Little Sprouts kindergarten (along with Wheelock College and WGBH) and Creative Workplace Learning to the site. They also carved out space for a Community Center and meeting space for local civic groups;
• raised $3.8 million for construction through grant proposals and fundraisers;
• put together a scope of work, hired a contractor, went to the bank, the City and the State, and arranged financing for the project.

A good idea is certainly an excellent magnet. Mayor Menino and the BRA secured funding contributions from larger development nearby, Mass Development structured tax exempt bond financing for the project, and all the elected officials from Brighton – Senator Tolman, Representatives Honan and Moran, and City Councilor Mark Ciomo -- were strong advocates for this very grassroots campaign. Secretary of State William Galvin even put forward a personal line of credit to the group to help secure the building in the first place.

About 9 months ago, HBI got a phone call from a board member at Wainwright Bank asking if we’d look into this project. The Bank had just approved a loan but the proposed project could not afford to replace the roof’s Spanish tiles, and the replacement windows could not replicate the original 6-over-6 style windows. We wondered if HBI could make a low interest loan to the project or help raise the money. In the course of conversations with Foundation board members Jim Prince and Kevin Caragee, we discovered that the Foundation hadn’t pursued Massachusetts Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credits, something that could cover 20% of qualified costs related to building rehabilitation.

HBI convened meetings of the School representatives, their contractor, and Albert Rex of MacRostie Historic Advisors in Boston. Albert’s team provided pro bono support for the tax credit application and will syndicate the tax credits. HBI also coordinated the mandatory support from state and local preservation organizations. Thanks to Secretary of State William Galvin and the Massachusetts Historical Commission, the Presentation School Community Center received a full allocation of State Historic Tax Credits – $1 million -- enough to close the critical gap in the project and incentive enough to keep the character-defining features of the historic school.

The Presentation School Foundation’s accomplishments are inspiration to us. A lot of things are possible when everyone pitches in on a great idea.

Read more about the Presentation School Foundation’s grassroots efforts in this 2010 Boston Globe Op-Ed piece and in this 2007 article from the Allston-Brighton Tab.

Friday, February 18, 2011

State Awards HBI Grants to Study Roxbury and Allston Sites for Preservation and Re-Use

The Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation has awarded HBI a grant of $20,000 to complete redevelopment feasibility studies of two underutilized DCR historic buildings in its Boston.

The Charles River Speedway, located along the Charles River in North Allston, and the Owen Nawn Factory in Roxbury’s Dudley Square will be the subjects of preservation and financial analyses that will help determine each site’s potential for re-use.

HBI was one of 31 Massachusetts organizations in 24 cities and towns to receive a portion of $1 million Partnerships Matching Funds from DCR Commissioner Edward Lambert at a ceremony yesterday at the State House. The Partnerships Matching Funds Program accepts applications from Friends groups and other park advocacy, civic and community organizations, institutions, businesses, and individuals interested in improving the Commonwealth’s natural, cultural, and recreational resources. Grants will support a wide variety of capital investments in DCR-owned properties.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Stuff-We-Find-in-Historic-Buildings #1: The RAP House neé Alvah Kittredge House

This is the first in an occasional series of posts that chronicle HBI’s growing collection of found items in the historic buildings where we work. We launch this series with a focus on Roxbury Action Program at the historic Alvah Kittredge House in honor of African American History Month.

Recent history is often the casualty of historic preservation. Fifty years is generally the preservation regulator’s threshold age for declaring something “historic.” We inevitably find objects in historic buildings that have been closed or boarded up for years that are of no financial value, but for us represent a gold mine of recent history and fill the story void of the last 40 to 50 years.

At the 1836 Alvah Kittredge House in Roxbury’s Highland Park, boarded up for 20 years and seriously deteriorated, HBI’s structural engineers and architects entered recently to examine the house’s structural problems. They found more than columns and Greek Revival period decoration; they brought back photos and material from the period of time when the Kittredge was the “RAP House,” from 1971 to the 1990s, home to Roxbury Action Program (RAP).

Thursday, February 3, 2011

How to Move a Project Forward in February

This week's weather has us thinking of one of the most frustrating aspects of construction in Boston: winter conditions. By that we mean not just the frustration of navigating icy, narrow roads, but also the significant added cost to a construction budget that will enable projects to keep moving along toward completion. In a perfect world, building would occur between April and October, and that is the schedule we always aim for with our projects. But so often, the complications of finalizing planning, permitting, and financing find us finally ready to build at the worst possible time of year. For the Eustis Street Fire House, construction began on November 1st. We plowed ahead (literally), hoping for a mild, short winter. We can still hope for short.

So what are the added costs? While roofing and framing can go forward in the cold, masonry and concrete work need 60 degrees or so to set, so heavy duty heaters are rented and the building and staging are enclosed in heavy tarps to try to warm the work area. Depending on the anticipated temperatures, heaters may need to remain on overnight and over weekends. Lights may need to be strung to illuminate the enclosed work area. And as work proceeds, the configurations of the protected area may move and change, which requires labor. Then there are the somewhat unpredictable costs of fuel and snow removal. Thankfully, the fire house is a tiny site, but even so, the winter conditions cost are projected to exceed $100,000 for the season.

One might reasonably ask if it would have been more sensible to just hold off construction start until spring to eliminate the costs associated with building in winter, but when the project all comes together, it's often necessary to begin immediately. By delaying we would not only lose the team's focus and momentum, but we also risk the possibility of escalating construction costs, losing a tax credit allocation and the investors who have committed to buying the tax credits, as well as our first floor tenant who is counting on moving in the spring. On the bright side, spring is a good season for HBI to move from the Old Corner Bookstore to the completed fire house, so at least we have that to look forward to.