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Another step forward on the Cambridge Public Library project

Last night I attended a 4 1/2 hr meeting of the Mid-Cambridge Neighborhood Conservation District Commission (MCNCDC) which was reviewing the next stage of the Cambridge Public Library plans. This was just one of the considerably over 100 meetings I have attended. The MCNCDC has the mission of approving all > 750 sq ft development efforts in Mid Cambridge. They have to decide if the proposed building is appropriate for the site - a difficult problem given that there is the old historic building, a park, and the high school, and a bunch of neighbors who want to make sure the park is kept the way it is.

This meeting was one in a series where at each step of the design their "tentative approval is sought". At the first such meeting they named four major conditions on their tentative approval. One was that as much as could be put underground was in the plan to make the building appear smaller and another was that the overall mass and appearance of the building was appropriate which could only be determined after much detail was presented.

The overall plan had a three story new building (the third floor is set back) connected with a narrow connector to the old building in such a way that the architectural features of the old building are respected. The front of the new building is in the same plane as the front of the old building and since the entrance to the underground parking garage is at the edge of the site, the current roadway into a parking lot that currently bisects the site will be gone. The plans call for demolishing the 1967 (extremely ugly) addition that is on the high school side and making that area be park too. As a result the park will be bigger, not divided by a road and the front area of the High School will have much more space.

The old building (1897) is stone and the new one will be mostly glass. The front wall is going to be two layers of glass separated by 2 1/2 feet (for Green Buiding-ness) and there will be terra-cotta louvers inside the outside layer of glass and some horizontal opaque glass vanes on the outside that will serve to allow daylight into the building while avoiding sunlight glare. It is a south facing wall. The terra-cotta will be the same color as the stone on the old building. The web site above doesn't yet have pictures of this, but there is a lot of information that shows the plans.

At the meeting, the architects presented the plans that they showed to the Design Advisory Committee (DAC) last week (I am a member of that committee). Then there was a period dedicated to "questions of fact" from the board and the public. There was a break to allow people to look at the models. After this there was public testimony. About 25 members of the public spoke - about 20 for and 5 against (this ratio was good news).

I spoke for about 10 minutes as a member of the DAC and also as a member of the Library 21 committee (I did that web site). I and several others wanted to make it clear that the program for the library dictated its size and that we had worked very hard developing/confirming the program and interacted with the public and experts in 20+ Library 21 meetings, 40 + focus groups, +++. We did not want the MCNCDC to demand that the building be made smaller.

We were successful. They voted that the underground requirement was met. For the size and appearance the board made a number of comments and suggestions but said that given that what was presented thus far remained true and more work was done in the detailed design of some of the appearance - particularly on the set-back top and on the east side they thought they would be able to approve the plans with this massing when they are presented.