Mayor to accept Powder House School redevelopment recommendations

On August 22, 2013, in Latest News, by The Somerville Times

Tufts University selected by Technical Advisory Committee as first choice for site use


Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone announced today that the Powderhouse Community School Technical Advisory Committee has submitted its final recommendations for redevelopment of the former K-8 public school site. The Committee recommended three of six proposals for consideration by the Mayor, with a proposal by Tufts University receiving the top recommendation of 80 percent group favorability. The Mayor plans to accept this recommendation.

The proposal submitted by Tufts University involves combining the former school and Tufts Administration Building (TAB) sites into a larger parcel that would face both Holland Street and Broadway. The complex would include upgrades to the existing TAB building, the construction of an administrative building with underground parking on the site of the former school, a third building on the former school site with either office or unaffiliated residential units (both affordable and market rate available to the public), and the largest contiguous public green space of any of the proposals. The Tufts proposal was the only submission to propose adding significant daytime office space and employees to the Teele Square area, and it creates significantly more open space than other proposals in addition to an expansion of current open space. It also would maintain building size that is consistent with a collaborative vision developed by community members over the last three years. The University has expressed a commitment to paying full property taxes on buildings they plan to develop.  

Two alternate proposals by Davis Square Partners and Diamond Sinacori each propose residential condominium developments for the site and were also recommended for consideration by the Mayor.

“The Powder House Community School was a valuable and beloved community resource for many years, and planning for its potential reuse or redevelopment has been an intensive community effort,” said Mayor Curtatone. “I want to thank the first the many residents who dedicated time to the community process and I also want to commend the Committee for their diligence in ensuring that their recommendation reflects the preferences of the large number of constituents who took part in the many public meetings to plan for this site. I look forward to also ensuring that we have a community development partner that will help bring these ideas to fruition.”

The site includes an 87,599-square-foot parcel with an existing 80,857-square-foot building that may be retained or demolished. Six proposals were submitted for review from: Davis Square Partners, Diamond Sinacori, Mammoth Acquisition Company, Powderhouse Development Group, Somerville Community Corp, and Tufts University.

The 15-member committee included seven residents, one business representative, three aldermen, one school committee member, and three city staff members. The Mayor and city officials convened the Technical Advisory Committee in May 2013 to review responses to the city’s Request for Proposals (RFP) seeking partners to reuse and/or redevelop the site.

The RFP sought proposals that would meet the objectives of the neighborhood developed through a two-year public process. Additional criteria included the experience of the development team in developing the project and leading a community design process, the long-term economic impact of the proposal, as well as the price offered for the property. According to RFP criteria, a minimum of 40 percent of the site must remain public open space, and the pedestrian route from Broadway to Holland Street must be preserved, enhanced, and maintained by the community partner.

Technical Advisory Committee member Richard Shortt noted that area residents met for over two years in ongoing Focus Group meetings sponsored by the city to identify community priorities. “The Committee paid close attention to what was recommended by the Focus Groups and a majority of members are happy with the recommended choice of Tufts University,” he said. “Their proposal provides more than double the open space hoped for, rather than just protecting existing open space, the number one priority of residents who participated in the Focus Groups.”

Mayor Curtatone plans to accept the Committee’s recommendations, and will enter into discussions to pursue an agreement with Tufts. Should an agreement not be reached, the two alternate proposals will be considered. Once a final recommendation is submitted to the Board of Aldermen and approved, the selected development partner and the city will engage the community in a collaborative planning process to establish how the plan will be designed on the site.

TAC members included:

  • Alderman Bob Trane, Ward 7
  • Alderman-at-Large Jack Connolly
  • Alderman-at-Large Dennis Sullivan
  • School Committee Chairperson Mary Jo Rossetti
  • Business owner Connor Brenan of PJ Ryan’s Pub
  • Somerville residents:
    • Sean Becker
    • Frances Fisher
    • Brian Harris
    • Jim Monagle
    • Mike Panis
    • Alex Pitkin
    • Richard Shortt
    • SomervilleCity staff:
      • George Proakis, OSPCD, Director of Planning and Zoning
      • Stephen Houdlette, OSPCD, Economic Development Specialist
      • Luisa Oliveira, OSPCD, Senior Planner for Landscape Design
      • Nonvoting member: Angela Allen, Purchasing Director

For more information on the Powder House Community School project please contact OSPCD at 617-625-6600 ext 2500.



18 Responses to “Mayor to accept Powder House School redevelopment recommendations”

  1. A. Moore says:

    The University has expressed a commitment to paying full property taxes on buildings they plan to develop ???????
    Only expressed an intrest? As opposed to what? Another free ride? Why not they are paying full commercial real estate taxes on this instead?

  2. jt says:

    I would like to see the Mayor and/or School Committee address the Mayor’s former pledge to retain the Powderhouse School, including the gym and outdoor basketball courts for community and municipal use. This was a pledge made to the School Committee, to parents, and to the community in order to get the School Committee to agree to close the school and turn ownership over to the city. Shame on the School Committee members, many of whom were there at the time, for not speaking up about this.
    “(Tufts) has expressed a commitment to paying full property taxes on buildings they plan to develop.”
    “Mayor Curtatone plans to accept the Committee’s recommendations, and will enter into discussions to pursue an agreement..”
    These statements tell me that, per usual, Tufts will get a sweetheart in this project. Does anyone remember how Brune sold Western Jr. High to Tufts for $1.00????

  3. Somerbreeze says:

    Why am I not surprised by this dubious outcome…

    Looks like the fix was in from Day One on this lollapalooza….

  4. MarketMan says:

    Everything sounds fine to me, except for the fact that Tufts will be the landlord. How does the city enforce them to pay full commercial real estate tax? It seems like they could just not pay and the city wouldn’t be able to do anything.

    jt: I didn’t know either of those things. That’s a shame.

  5. ritepride says:

    Today the Powderhouse School…tomorrow the whole city. When the citizens (honest) were appointed to a committee by Bill Fothergill in the late 70s? regarding Tufts plan to build dorms down Powderhouse Boulevard and the citizens revolted because it devalued their homes.

    The citizens committee demanded to see Tufts Master Plan. Tufts refused and the committee called the city solicitor into action and the committee was amazed at what they found from what was probably just a piece of Tufts Master Plan.

    Aerial photos and maps of West Somerville. The initial phase, Broadway from Powderhouse Square towards North Street, eventually being taken over by Tufts. Riight now Real Estate agencies acting as a front for Tufts have been buying homes in the various West Somerville neighborhoods.

    In our neighborhood several families have bought homes in order to stop Tufts from buying entire blocks. The city with the incoming GLX will end up having 60% of the tax base being tax exempt. With Tufts resolve to buy up neighborhoods, a financial burden none of the residents should have to bear. It is a criminal act for the mayor to allow this to happen shame on him, is he planning for free college education for his kids.

    Tufts Alumni, Mr Tish paid Multi millions for the building of a new structure by Cousins Gym, did not cost Tufts a dime, thus Tufts should be doing like Harvard/MIT, who each give eight million dollars in lieu of taxes each year for municipal services that they draw upon from Cambridge Fire/Police/EMS/DPW. Tufts should be doing the same and the funds should be used specifically for that purpose so the politicians cannot use it for their “hack” payroll

    Tufts wants Powderhouse so that they can build an access roadway to
    their TAB building and cause increased neighborhood traffic. Where’s Martha Coakley, State Attorney General, who should be protecting the residents.

    It is grossly unfair to sell anymore land in the city to tax exempt organizations. A statewide limitation for each city/town should be established that no more than 25% of any taxable land in a city/town be tax exempt. All these institutions of higher learning have big trusts/endowments and all can afford to pay taxes. Let us hope that our State Senators/Representatives and city officials, (even if they are Tufts Alum) will do their job of representing the taxpaying residents. “Joey Cupcakes” just gives creedence to the corruption in this city by supporting selling the taxpayers property to Tufts

  6. Somerbreeze says:

    Maybe it’s time to illuminate WHO in city government is chummy with WHO–and HOW–at Tufts?

    Ah, now that would be a Somerville Book of Revelations, wouldn’t it….

  7. gregtowne says:

    JT, there is no way that promise could have been kept. the land is too valuable and even if it wasn’t, the only way to pay for the upkeep of the PHCS would be through our taxes which are already sky high.

    Ritepride-I would rather have Tufts than any of the other developers in my neighborhood. At least it will be mixed use and not 100% condos. That said, either way we’re screwed with the increase in traffic etc..our quality of life will be downgraded.

  8. ritepride says:

    I remember years back going to pick up someone at Fantasia’s Restaurant, Fresh Pond Cambridge and seeing the then Somerville mayor having dinner with Tufts President Jean Mayer….funny that they did not choose to eat at one of the fine Somerville Restaurants….Probably because they did not want to be seen together. Though I did say Hi to let them know that I saw them

  9. A. Moore says:

    gregtowne, when there was talk a while back about the YMCA looking for space I had thought this the perfect spot for them. Compared to what ese they want this for or who. I agree with your statement. City is just too much into more getting more people in this small space.

  10. MarketMan says:

    ritepride: Fresh Pond, Cambridge isn’t that far from Somerville. So if they didn’t want to be seen, I don’t think that would have been their choice. Also, just because they had a meal together doesn’t mean that they are working on a conspiracy.

  11. ritepride says:

    Wake up “MarketMan” (or do u work @ Cityhall?) The blue collar class that lives in Somerville could not afford to eat at Fantasia’s. Do you really think Jean Mayer would eat at a restaurant that the common man would go to? This was just before the Western Jr High was “given” to tax exempt Tufts for $1.00.

    Colleges/Universities are tax exempt via the Dover Amendment, thus even though they can operate profit making research facilities, they remain tax exempt status. So everytime they buy up a house in your neighborhood that home becomes tax exempt and you pay for it by having your taxes go higher as a result of the city losing tax base from those homes purchased by colleges/universities and non profits (halfway homes, etc.) Time for federal/state officials to modify the tax exempt rule.
    This city is reaching the point that 60% of its tax base is non exempt status. No city can survive, the tax exempt land in any city should not exceed 25%.

  12. Villenous says:

    How does replacing an empty, decaying, ugly building downgrade the quality of life in the neighborhood? It’s certainly not going to downgrade the viability of the businesses in Teele Square. And it’s not going to downgrade the property values of the homes around it.

    If Tufts signs a contract agreeing to pay the taxes on the property, then it has to pay the taxes on the property. It sounds like that’s going to be a condition of the sale of the property. So the city converts a building that costs it money into a tax-bearing property.

    I assume no matter which proposal the city picked, the claim would be the fix was in. This is why it’s easier for the government to do nothing. Glad we don’t live in a city that refuses to do anything to do anything because it might whip the chronic complainers into a froth.

  13. A. Moore says:

    I think what concerns many about Tufts is that once they get in they would go about doing something about being tax exempt after the fact unless the city is giving them a big discount. Who knows?

  14. ritepride says:

    Tufts historically has been an unfriendly neighbor for decade upon decade, do you think they will change now?

    Why is it that the original Police stations in Union Sq & Bow St., The old Union Square firehouse (now used by SCAT), the old Lowe School on Morrison Ave., etc. all over the years being decreed by elected officials of being in danger of collapse due to age, yet still stand strong today.

    Yet all the schools built in the 70s etc., cannot last even 20 years? Our illustrious city officials allowing cheap materials to be used in the newer construction????

  15. Ron Newman says:

    If the new development is going to be offices, I’d prefer that they be offices for new and starting-up businesses, rather than just moving Tufts people who already work in other university buildings to this site.

  16. Marie says:

    The article doesn’t say that Tufts will sign a contract agreeing to pay taxes. Apparently some people have not been down this road before. It says that once accepted, the mayor will “…enter into discussions to pursue an agreement with Tufts”, and that the “…University has expressed a commitment to paying full property taxes…”. It will be decided that it just isn’t cost effective, and they couldn’t possibly develop this property whilst paying property taxes.

  17. jt says:

    A statement that they are ‘committed’ to paying full taxes does not equal a letter with the signatures of all required parties, agreeing to pay full rate property taxes on that property for as long as it is owned by Tufts. No signature, no agreement. Although, even then I’d be hesitant to believe it. I can see them selling it to a phantom third party, also tax-exempt.

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