The people who keep MIT running day-in, day-out are looking for a new home. The Operations group of MIT’s Department of Facilities is mulling use of the former California Products Corporation’s property at the corner of Waverly St. and Putnam Ave., just northwest of West Campus. At a June 22 meeting, MIT officials pitched the idea to residents of Cambridgeport — the neighborhood where this property currently lies dormant.
MIT’s Grounds Services division and Repair and Maintenance (R&M) division are planning to move from their current sites in NW62 on Mass. Ave. and E19, respectively. The Grounds Services division maintains MIT’s ourdoors areas and the R&M division maintains HVAC systems and plumbing. NW62 will be demolished along with other buildings just north of Random Hall as part of a redevelopment project led by Forest City Boston, a real-estate company.
At last month’s meeting in NW35, Facilities director John DiFava cited the former California Products building as a good site for Grounds and R&M because it is close to campus, already owned by MIT, and can serve the various storage, repair, and administrative needs of the displaced Facilities groups. The building has gone largely unused for years, since MIT acquired the property to allow for the reconfiguration of roads in the area. The Institute built California Products, a paint company, a new factory in Andover, Mass. in exchange.
If Facilities does pick the site, the site will need to undergo substantial renovations before it can be used. “Shops,” like for plumbing, carpentry, and metal work will be installed, in addition to exterior renovations and landscaping of the property. MIT suggested a variety of modern designs for the building’s now crumbling, battered exterior.
Sarah E. Gallop, director of MIT’s community relations office, noted to Cambridge residents that MIT has not made any decisions yet. Feedback from area residents, she said, was part of the evaluation process. If MIT moves forward with relocating the Facilities groups here, it will not need to request any re-zoning.
Several Cambridge residents from the dense residential area around the site raised concerns over noise, parking, and the further development of housing in south Cambridgeport.
MIT acknowledged that the building’s ventilation and carpentry shop would create noise, but were firm that noise levels would be within city standards. DiFava noted the current location of R&M, in the same building as labs and offices, is not a problem and noise is contained well.
On the issue of parking, MIT said that Facilities employees would park in lots already owned and used by MIT and therefore would not take up valuable street parking. When pressed on the issue, DiFava acknowledged to concerned residents that MIT could not prevent Facilities employees with Cambridge permits from parking on Cambridgeport streets, but assumed that few, if any, employees would actually do this.
Cambridge Vice Mayor Henrietta Davis (also a resident of the area) voiced concerns over the development of housing in south Cambridgeport — a long-time goal of the city and neighborhood leaders. For years, Cambridge has been looking to transition light industrial areas in Cambridgeport to residential use.
“[This] wasn’t what the council envisioned with the zoning that pushed towards housing but left [MIT] the option for commercial,” said Davis. The plan to convert the former paint factory into a Facilities garage, she said, did not seem “compatible” with the housing situation in the area.
Davis also noted that the potential Facilities building directly abuts an affordable housing complex now under construction. The complex — “Putnam Green” — will help enclose the old factory on two sides with residential buildings when complete.
Residents also inquired as to the status of smaller California Products buildings across the street from the main site. The Institute currently has no plans for those buildings, but did not rule out the possibility that extra space could be converted for community parking use. The large, MIT-owned lot on Waverly St. will be used for Facilities vehicles parking.
Another resident called the proposed site an “eyesore” and suggested that renovation and landscaping would be an improvement. But another chimed in: “At least it’s a quiet eyesore.”
MIT currently has no timeframe for the proposal, and will continue to solicit community feedback at follow-up meetings. The Institute invited area residents on a tour of current Facilities buildings, to get a sense of the potential for noise and the type of work that would be done in the building.