What facilities will be on New Washington Street?

    The new portion of New Washington Street will have 12’ sidewalks, a separated bike facility, parking, and two travel lanes.

    Why not put the parking underground?

    The water table in this area of Somerville is extremely high. It doesn’t mean that we cannot do underground parking, it just means that it costs substantially more than structured parking. Estimates are around $250,000 per space. 

    How was this site selected?

    The 90 Washington Street site was selected after a 2018 study to evaluate how much square footage a new public safety office needed and what sites were available in Somerville for a building of that size. Click here to read the report. The site was taken using a demonstration project plan which is a tool that allows for the taking of property for a public need and to remove blight. The 90 Washington Street site will be the home of the new public safety building and also meet the vision created by the neighborhood starting at the public meeting on December 13th. 

    Why didn’t the site selection consider the Washington Street underpass flooding?

    As part of the GLX project, a new pump station was installed to clear this area of water in heavy storms. This equipment will come online at the end of the GLX project, in plenty of time for the occupancy of the new public safety building.

    Do we really need a new building for public safety?

    The current public safety building in Union Square at 220 Washington Street is a renovated MBTA car barn. Forty years after a renovation to make it the home of public safety, the building has reached the end of its useful life. Knowing the building needed to be replaced, the City included 220 Washington Street as part of a redevelopment parcel called D1 in the Union Square Revitalization Plan. This plan, adopted by the Board of Alderman (now City Council), puts into action 15 acres of redevelopment in Union Square to fulfil the vision of the Union Square Neighborhood Plan including new open space, market rate and affordable housing, and commercial development.

    Why realign New Washington Street?

    New Washington Street’s current alignment creates an unideal geometry at Washington Street. Because the intersection is a gradual curve, motorists travel through too quickly which creates unpleasant conditions. The City is working on improving this area of Washington Street for all users. It started in with separated bike facilities on Washington Street. There will be pedestrian improvements at Tufts/Knowlton as part of the GLX project and floating bus stops on Washington Street to improve bus loading/unloading. Realigning New Washington Street to be opposite Franklin Street will further improve the experience for all users of the right-of-way. This will be a signalized intersection to allow for safe turning movements for cars and better crossing for pedestrians.

    Why is the public safety building planning a parking garage?

    There’s an +/- 80 vehicle fleet associated with the departments that will be located in the building. The intent is to run a shared parking model so that employees can park, when space is available, inside the garage. We are working with our consulting team to build in technology that public parking may be available in the future as city needs evolve. However, our priority is protecting city assets whether in a secured parking lot, structured parking, or underground parking. Although a parking garage is an investment, the intent is to have the public safety building, and any parking, take up the least amount of land as possible so there’s more space to implement the shared community goals on the remainder of the site. A small portion of electric vehicle parking will be accounted for in the new garage, there are some hybrid vehicles in the SPD/SFD fleet. Electrical conduit for future expansion is also part of the project.  

    How is this building sustainable?

    This building will be the most sustainable building Somerville has ever built. It will also be one of the most sustainable buildings in Somerville, period. This building will be LEED platinum certifiable and net zero ready. Some of the systems include ground source heat pumps (‘geothermal’) for heating and cooling the building, solar panels, all electric systems, white roofing to reduce urban heat island, and daylighting to reduce the demand on lighting systems.

    Some people may not feel comfortable using a park adjacent to the public safety building, can the park go somewhere else on the site?

    The ground source heat pumps are underground equipment, this system cannot be built upon so we can create either a park or a parking lot over the wellfield. We assumed people would rather have an open space here but are open to community input. Having an open space here does not preclude open space on other areas of the 90 Washington Street site. 

    Based on community input, if the outcome that this is a park, we will work closely with the division of Public Space and Urban Forestry to lead a community process very similar, if not the same, to creating new open space in Somerville.  

    How many calls does Engine 3 answer?

    Using 2021 data, Engine 3 averages 6.2 calls per day. of those calls, 1.5 per day were between the hours of 9 pm and 7 am. Siren noise will be mitigated via signal design, see the other FAQ on that.

    How is siren noise being mitigated?

    The site design is meant to reduce siren noise to the least amount possible. There will be a signal on New Washington Street at the driveway apron to allow for fire engines to be able to exit to stopped traffic. This signal will be tied to the new signal at Washington Street so fire engines will have the green light approaching the intersection. All this means is that fire engines will not use their sirens to exit or enter the station. All other lighted intersections in Somerville use technology that approaching emergency vehicles are given a green light further reducing the need for emergency signals to notify surrounding vehicles

    The public safety building does not act as a dispatch center for police vehicles as most emergency responses by police are done by patrolling officers. However, there will be some instances of police officers leaving the public safety building for an emergency response. Most likely, it would be ‘lights only’ especially during overnight hours. The signal technology for emergency vehicles will assist their quick response without the need for sirens so surrounding residents should not hear many police sirens.

    Why is the City building a public safety building so close to a train station?

    The City, with the Planning & Zoning departments lead, has been planning for transit-oriented development around the GLX stations. From that work, we know that housing and commercial development should be clustered around new transit stations with low parking ratios to encourage commutes by sustainable modes of transit. This is exactly what we’re doing. The public safety building is a commercial office building where ~100 employees come to work. Furthermore, the building will be operational 24/7.

    I’ve heard that public private partnerships could be a way to get the public safety building built for free or reduced cost. Why aren’t we pursuing that option?

    If it sounds too good to be true, it’s probably not true and this is exactly the case here. True public private partnerships are not a legal procurement method for municipalities in Massachusetts without special legislation. There are other examples of quasi-PPP’s from Boston and nationwide in which municipalities put city-owned land up for sale, in exchange, existing tenants need to be relocated at the developer’s cost. This is how the 125 Purchase Street fire station was built as part of a commercial building development in Downtown Boston. A developer built a new fire station and fire administration office +/- 25,000 SF in addition to 1.5 million SF (30 stories) of private development. The public safety building is approximately 70,000 SF. If we wanted to pursue this model for the public safety building, the City would have to allow enough development density to offset the costs of this building for the developer which would likely be untenable for the desired neighborhood character. In addition, the neighborhood is not ripe for the type of development that can offset the costs of a 70,000 SF building. If you’re still interested in knowing more, the building committee meeting from May has more info.

    What are some of the design drivers of the PSB program?

    The new public safety building will be home to police and fire administration and Engine 3. Each department has design elements that are better suited in different areas of the building.

    Engine 3's two major programmatic elements are the apparatus bays and living quarters for the fire department. The apparatus bays (where the fire engines park) need to be on the ground level. The living quarters need to be in close proximity to apparatus bays for the quickest call time response. 

    The fire administration is essentially just office space and can go anywhere in the building. There is a lot of continuing education and training in the police department. The community room will also serve as the space for fire department training but that adjacency isn't crucial. 

    The police administration takes up the majority of square footage of the building. Programmatic elements include office spaces for Administration, COHR, Investigations, and Patrol. Specialties areas within the police department are detention, the emergency operations center, and evidence. The Somerville PD is an accredited police department so the design decisions need to take into account the desire for continued accreditation. 

    Detention is a program element that should be on the first floor to avoid an additional elevator in the building. The Emergency Operations Center is a place where people gather in cases of emergency. For instance, police, fire, and administration might gather here when severe storm like ice or a hurricane are predicted. They would be able to make coordinated decisions quickly and mobilize for the safety of residents. Lastly, evidence is a specialty that's heavily regulated. It can go almost anywhere in the building but is best near investigations based on the officers associated with the department. 

    Lastly, is the dispatch office. E911 and Fire Alarm are merging to one location in the new PSB. This will help route calls even more efficiently and effectively. It's important that dispatchers have a quiet desk to take emergency calls. Their location in the building isn't as important as having a quiet environment.  

    The rendering of the Public Safety Building looks final, can residents really have a say?

    Technology has enabled project designers to create a building rendering at a click of a button. This is for our benefit and helps us visualize what the building will look like, especially for people that don't have the technical expertise to read architectural drawings. These types of images are reiterated on over and over again. The project has just completed an early phase of design called schematic design, there's opportunity for more feedback through the next phase!

    Does this building have a firing range?

    It does not. The SPD conducts live ammunitions training outside of Somerville. The training being planned for in the PSB is virtual/computer simulated training. 

    The City is taking away Cobble Hill resident's parking lot, why?

    In preparation for a previous development, the owner of Cobble Hill, Corcoran Jennison, subdivided the site into two for a proposed development which severed a parking lot, loading access to the 84 building, and a shed from the Cobble Hill Apartment site. This was allowed because of the common ownership at the time of subdivision. In their proposed development plan, they solved how to address these issues with work on other parts of the Cobble Hill Apartment site. Since the City acquired 90 Washington Street, we have continued to let Cobble Hill management and residents use this portion of the property on City land. In August 2021, the PSB project team met with employees of Corcoran Jennison to notify them of these issues and provide timelines in which they should be remediated. So far, the owners of Cobble Hill Apartments have not acted to rectify these issues for the benefit of their residents. 

    The question in the community meeting was asked whether we could let Cobble Hill residents keep their parking. That can certainly be part of the community conversation. However, that needs to be a decision based on community feedback. We're having conversations about the community's priorities for the site and each comes with different trade-offs - open space, affordable housing, commercial development, surface parking, etc. Be part of the conversation!

    How many trees will be removed from the site?

    At this time, we don't have an exact answer to that question but we do know that trees, especially mature trees, are important to the Somerville community. There will be tree removal as part of this project, it really is inevitable since anything built here will conflict with existing plantings. However, we are committed to trying to coordinate to maximize the number of trees saved where possible. 

    A benefit of having an open space above the ground source heat pumps on the 'tail' portion of the PSB parcel is tree preservation. We would work with consultants to lay out the wells in an attempt to preserve healthy trees. If it's parking, the site would have less trees because it would need to be regraded to be relatively flat for parking. 

    What's the climate impact of this project?

    Capital Projects worked closely with the Office of Sustainability and Environment to consider the impacts of this project. Somerville’s goal is to be carbon neutral by 2050.

    The annual carbon footprint of the existing PSB at 220 Washington Street is 425 MtCO2e (metric tons of carbon dioxide per year). The new Public Safety Building is anticipated to use 254 MtCO2e. This is a 40% savings. In addition, the new PSB will be an all-electric building. The strategy is that the grid is transitioning to sustainable energy sources (something not possible with natural gas) so our energy procurement will get greener over time, reducing our MtCO2e.

    During the public comment portion of the January Building Committee meeting, participants weighted the options of saving trees and changing the siting of the building. First off, the City does not consider tree removal lightly. Any tree removal will follow the requirements of the Tree Removal Ordinance. That being said, there’s roughly 60 trees on the public safety building site as presented at the December 13th meeting. Those trees, in total, absorb 1.5 MtCO2e annually or only .6% of the new PSB’s CO2 equivalent output. To put that in comparison with the PSB, you’d have to plant 6,858 trees to match the CO2e savings estimated by the PSB replacement project.  

    In a later stage of design, the PSB project team will look to preserve mature healthy trees on the site, especially on the ‘tail’ portion of the property where the ground source heat pump/open space will be. In addition, new trees will be planted as part of the project. 

    Can the project include a Safe Consumption Site (SCS?)

    The City is exploring the feasibility of a SCS. Learn more about that process here. Our needs assessment identified that SCS are best utilized when not associated with or in close proximity to public safety facilities.

    Have a question that wasn’t answered?

    Email the public safety building project manager, Melissa Woods, at mwoods@somervillema.gov. The project team will try to get you an answer.