Friday, July 18, 2008

Headed in Reverse on Construction Management Plans

In what is hopefully not a bad omen for Boston College's proposed ten-year, $1 billion capital construction project, questions surfaced in the last week over the city approval process for renovations underway at the library on BC's new Brighton Campus.

How did neighborhood residents sense something was going awry? A week or two ago a construction truck drove down one-way Lake Street, the driver probably realized his mistake, and then he backed up several hundred feet in order to get to an entrance into the Brighton Campus -- the former St. John's Seminary land purchased by BC in 2004-7.

At the October 16, 2007 meeting of the BC Task Force at which the library renovations were discussed, I had mentioned that construction vehicles ought to enter the Brighton Campus only through the Commonwealth Avenue entrance. A logical extension is that no construction trucks should travel down Lake Street or Foster Street -- particularly since the latter has a posted 2.5 ton weight limit banning heavy trucks. BC officials seemed to nod in agreement.

After seeing the truck go in reverse up Lake Street, several residents thought that there ought to be a construction management plan (CMP) for the renovation work -- and that it ought to say that there would be no truck traffic on Lake Street. Queries to BC and the BRA caused city workers to scramble for a few days to figure out what was going on -- and if the city's processes regarding the construction work were being followed.

The BRA requires large development projects to negotiate a signed CMP with the Boston Transportation Department after BRA Board approval but before construction begins. The problem: there wasn't a CMP on file for the library renovations.

In the end, everything appeared to be OK: BC told the BRA that renovation work on the library only started after the city issued a building permit on June 18th; and the BRA determined that a CMP was not required for the renovation work because the BRA had issued a "notice of exemption" for the work on May 14th.

And BC officials apparently told their contractors in no uncertain terms what entrance they should be using.

Update on BC's IMP Amendment

The renovation work on the library provided an opportunity to get an update on BC's institutional master plan amendment first filed in October 2007.

The revised IMPA of April 2008 requested approval of temporary occupancy of Bishop Peterson Hall as the offices and classrooms for the new School of Theology and Ministry, along with renovations of the library and St. William's Hall. After the renovations of St. William's Hall are complete, the STM would move there permanently. (St. William's Hall was already approved as the site for the STM in the 2006 IMPA, so BC returned to this previous plan.) The Bishop Peterson Hall kitchens will be permanently used jointly by STM seminarians and the diocesan seminarians at St. John's Seminary. (The former rector of St. John's Seminary won't be happy!)

The "notice of exemption" of May 14, 2008 was issued by the BRA because the library renovations, with the exception of a handicapped access ramp, were entirely interior to the building. While the library renovations are still formally part of the IMPA, the notice meant that BC could proceed with them without waiting for approval of the IMPA itself.

The public comment period for the IMPA closed on June 6, 2008 without any letters received, according to BRA project manager John Fitzgerald.

Since that date, BC and the BRA appear to have been too busy with other issues to follow-up on the IMPA. Even though Article 80 review dictates that a BRA Board vote should follow soon after the close of the public comment period, it has not yet taken place. Nor has the Zoning Commission taken it up.

Fitzgerald offered his assurances that, when the St. William's renovations are approved, the BRA will make sure that a construction management plan is signed with BTD prior to the start of any construction work.

And that no more trucks would be backing up on Lake Street.

Image of a dump truck by cindy47452 provided through a Creative Commons license.

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