Cambridge considers City Hall renovation, might acquire former offices of Chamber
The city is looking at a multimillion-dollar expansion, renovation and relocation of offices at City Hall and three surrounding buildings that could change life significantly for employees and elected officials during the next four years of design and construction, as well as beyond.
In addition to City Hall at 795 Massachusetts Ave., the structures under consideration are the Lombardi Municipal Building at 831 Massachusetts Ave., which could gain additional floors; 3 Bigelow St., the YWCA family shelter serving as transitional housing, which is next to the Lombardi building; and the former home of the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce at 859 Massachusetts Ave., a three-story house built in 1887 and converted to office space.
Although the Chamber has offered to sell its 859 Massachusetts Ave. property, City Manager Richard C. Rossi suggested Thursday to the City Council that the property might be acquired by eminent domain. The building and land – owned by the Chamber since the 1970s – are assessed at $1.2 million, according to the Cambridge Assessor’s database. The Chamber moved out Monday, relocating to temporary offices at 485 Massachusetts Ave.
The city announced the project by putting out a call to architects and engineers in mid-April for a “Multi-Building Department Relocation Master Plan.” The Request for Qualifications mentions only obliquely the Chamber’s building as “one additional building in proximity to the buildings noted,” and initially city officials declined to clarify the intended building, noting only that the document was indeed “vague.” The building was identified May 13 when the city manager released a letter to the council outlining the renovation.
Sarah Kennedy, the Chamber of Commerce’s director of government affairs, did not respond to an inquiry for this article.
The main project goal is to create a single “legislative floor” at City Hall, according to the RFQ. For some time, councillors have expressed frustration at their limited meeting space for legislative functions and meetings with constituents, as well as the lack of office space for councillors aside from the mayor and vice-mayor. Seven council aides share a single office divided with cubicles.
The council passed policy orders in 2012 and 2014 asking the manager to pursue additional space, co-sponsored by Mayor E. Denise Simmons and councillors Dennis Carlone and Leland Cheung, as well as former mayor Henrietta Davis and former councillors Marjorie Decker, Kenneth Reeves and Minka vanBeuzekom. The two orders were placed on file due to the departure of former manager Robert W. Healey and the close of the 2014-15 legislative term, respectively; neither received a report back from a city manager.
The RFQ also targets a consolidation of the city’s Information Technology Department, which has grown from a 20 employees with a $3.6 million budget in 2010-11 to a projected 29 employees and a $7.2 million budget in 2016-17. The department has space on multiple floors of Lombardi, which are described as quite crowded, as well as servers in City Hall and other buildings. It shares Lombardi’s second floor with the Cambridge Historical Commission. Inspectional Services, though not mentioned in the document, is also in Lombardi, on the first and basement levels, and has been growing as the pace of development in the city has heightened.
“I believe [the RFQ] will be a significant and valuable tool in enabling the city to best envision the planned department relocation and consolidation of uses in multiple city buildings, which may possibly include the Chamber of Commerce building,” Rossi said in the letter.
The city may add one or two stories to Lombardi, according to the April document. The city previously studied a lesser renovation of Lombardi that could cost $1 million, primarily to reconfigure the technology department’s second-floor office space, and also to add an emergency generator on the roof. It also has considered putting the emergency generator at City Hall, a $500,000 project.
A reconstruction of the YWCA shelter was estimated to cost $4 million in 2014, and would address “years of neglect and deferred maintenance,” include bringing the building up to code and addressing structural deterioration that has resulted from “a legacy of roof, plumbing and foundation leaks.”
Five firms have responded to the city’s call for project designers: Abacus, Ann Beha Architects, Finegold Alexander Architects, HMFH Architects and LDa Architects.
Most of the submissions focused on the qualifications of the submitters rather than specific ideas for the project. But Finegold Alexander noted that municipal office use of the YWCA shelter and expansion of Lombardi would require variances from the Board of Zoning Appeals.
HMFH’s submission demonstrated a keen awareness of the project’s context, explicitly mentioning the Chamber’s building and suggesting the possibility of relocating the entire shelter building to make space for an expansion of Lombardi away from Massachusetts Avenue.
LDa and HMFH are Cambridge firms; the other three are Boston-based. LDa did the feasibility study for the YWCA shelter, and HMFH did the Lombardi renovation study.
Interviews with the firms are scheduled for Monday and May 27.
Design work for the Chamber’s former office building would take place from June to October, with construction running from January to August 2017, according to the RFQ. A feasibility study for that building is ongoing.
A second phase – a feasibility study of changes to the Lombardi building and City Hall – would begin in February, followed by design work in October 2017 through July 2018, with a target of substantial completion by September 2020.