Construction begins on Commonwealth Avenue
Two-year project to make street safer, enhance “urban campus”
The long-planned Commonwealth Avenue restoration project got under way along with the new semester this year, bringing sidewalk detours and construction sounds to campus. Sidewalk work outside of Warren Towers was rescheduled to accommodate move-in, and the summer’s final orientation session was periodically accompanied by jackhammers.
While the expected completion date is in 2008, University administrators are currently working to ensure that the BU community remains up-to-date on the stages and progress of the construction and are encouraging students and faculty to check the project’s Web site for information about what areas of campus will be affected from week to week.
“The contractors have been very willing to work with us,” says Gary Nicksa, the University vice president for operations. “But it’s always tough — you look to the end and see how beautiful it’s going to be, but it’s like renovating your house while living in it.”
The construction is a $13 million University collaboration with the city, the state, and the MBTA that is expected to make Commonwealth Avenue more attractive and pedestrian-friendly. One of the three traffic lanes on the westbound side of the street will be eliminated, the sidewalks and T stops will be widened, and additional trees and plants will create a “vegetative buffer” between BU’s campus and the street. The idea, Nicksa says, is to create an “urban park setting” for BU and give this section of Commonwealth Avenue more resemblance to the city’s parkways, designed by renowned 19th-century landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted.
University officials began discussing the renovation with the Boston Public Works Department in 1996, with work actually beginning on the north side of the avenue, between the BU Bridge and St. Mary’s Street, in late August. The contractor, McCourt Construction, is currently setting up a temporary water main and will move on to the south side of the street, between St. Mary’s Street and Kenmore Square, in the next phase.
“The goal is to work in small segments,” says Nicksa, adding that an oversight committee, chaired by Tom Daley, associate vice president of Facilities Management and Planning, will meet with the deans and the provost on a regular basis. In addition, another Web page providing daily updates is expected to launch within two weeks, offering people a chance to sign up for e-mail updates.
Although it may be hard to imagine the end result, Nicksa says that the renovation will ultimately help students feel more connected to both the University and the city. “Right now, we have what we call a "hardscape" of concrete sidewalks and brick — anything to break that up is going to give us a more urban-campus feeling,” he says. “It allows you to be living in the city, but still have that sense of being part of BU.”
Greening the gateway