The Christian Science Board of Directors at The First Church of Christ, Scientist, today released a Draft Project Plan (large pdf) (small pdf) for the Christian Science Plaza in Boston. The Church has been in the Boston community for over 130 years. “The Church is proud to be part of Boston’s progressive vision and noble history,” said Mary Trammell, Chair of the Board of Directors, “and to continue a tradition of contributing to this City’s beauty, inspiration, and progress. We wish to express our deep gratitude to the many citizens, public officials, and professionals who helped develop this plan to revitalize the Plaza.”
Since February 2009, the Church has engaged with a Citizen’s Advisory Committee (CAC) appointed by Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino. The CAC is assisting the City, through the Boston Redevelopment Authority, to ensure that community priorities are addressed at all stages of project planning, and has met 17 times to date.
It has been 40 years since the last major redesign of the Plaza. The desire to improve the pedestrian experience, enhance sustainability features, and address significant needed repairs led the Church in 2006 to commence a public planning process to revitalize the Plaza. The Church will continue its stewardship of the Plaza for the benefit of the community. This is the Church’s permanent home; it cares deeply about what happens on the Plaza and in its neighborhood. The three objectives of the Plaza Revitalization Project are to:
1. Enhance open space
The Church plans to make the Plaza a more usable and attractive year-round destination for the community, with places for both quiet contemplation and active enjoyment, and improve pedestrian circulation through the site and to the adjacent neighborhoods. The Project proposes to reinstate the historical pathway to the Original Mother Church, by including a pedestrian ground-level crossing through the Reflecting Pool. (This is not a bridge over the Pool, but a pathway through it.) Here are diagrams of the existing site and proposed changes:
Peter Brigham, Senior Associate at Sasaki Associates, adds “The current design concept preserves the open space and the tremendous success of the original Plaza design while making the site more welcoming to the public. Careful attention to the design of the plaza-level pedestrian crossing and the slight shortening of the Reflecting Pool will help create better connections and revitalize the Reflecting Pool and the Plaza.” The Children’s Fountain, redesigned and rebuilt in 2001, will continue to be a key feature on the Plaza, and ice skating is being considered for that area the winter. The Church also proposes to soften the site by expanding lawn areas and adding more shade trees, benches, and tables.
2. Improve environmental sustainability
Water conservation: The Church needs to rebuild the Reflecting Pool, which cannot be repaired further as it is subject to breakdowns and leaks into the garage below. Rebuilding the Pool, which is empty half the year, provides opportunities to improve it while retaining its reflectivity and its vital contribution to the Plaza. The Pool’s depth will be reduced from 26 inches to about 6 to 12 inches, saving more than two million gallons of water annually. Dan Euser, President of Waterarchitecture Inc., points out, “Water reflectivity is a function of pool floor color darkness. There are many successful mirror-like pools that are only one to four inches deep. As pools become shallower, filtration turnover rates are increased to maintain the same water quality.”
Other environmental benefits: These will include reducing the urban heat island effect by planting more trees and grass areas; improving rainwater management by creating more permeable surfaces; and improving groundwater management for the approximately 4,800 wood piles under the Original Mother Church and The Mother Church Extension.
3. Identify opportunities for underutilized real estate
No existing buildings will be demolished, and open space will be retained. The Plaza is underdeveloped in terms of its current zoning and in comparison with surrounding areas. The addition of new buildings in selected locations on the perimeters — near the intersection of Belvidere and Dalton Streets and between the Sunday School building and Huntington Avenue — will add new vitality to the area, create new jobs, and increase property tax revenues for the City.
The Church is financially stable, but too much of its financial resources are being directed towards real estate maintenance and operations rather than toward its mission. Reuse of existing space and construction of new space would generate real estate revenues to help offset real estate expenses, including the ongoing costs of maintaining the open space.
The Church is also in the process of responding to the Boston Landmarks Commission study report released on June 22. The Church shares common ground with the Landmarks Commission in wanting to preserve key aspects of the Plaza, but is exploring less restrictive approaches that would provide historic recognition and protection while allowing the continuing evolution of the Plaza in beneficial ways for the Church, the neighborhood, and the City.
The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston, Massachusetts, is the Church’s worldwide headquarters. Spiritual healing is at the core of the Church’s mission. The Church’s wholly-owned subsidiary, The Christian Science Publishing Society, publishes several magazines, as well as The Christian Science Monitor.
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