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How Should the City Reuse the Health Department Building in Newton Centre?

A joint advisory planning group has studied the land and the 85-year-old building and suggested the space could be used for a restaurant or market.

If you had 16,000 square feet of land in Newton Centre, what would you do with the space?

That is the question the city is facing right now in considering its options for the Health & Human Services Department building located at 1294 Centre St.

In September 2011, the city's Health & Human Services Department declared the 85-year-old building and its land as surplus, leaving it available for other uses.

The Newton Centre property is a 16,160-square-foot parcel with a building that has 4,800 square feet of usable space, according to city documents. Built in 1927, the building is listed on the National Register of Historical Places and was one of the five original branches of the Newton public library system.

According to a memo from the Planning Department, both the Health and Planning departments determined that the old, constrained building no longer met the needs of the city and requires approximately $1.6 million in building, plumbing and electrical repairs. The full Planning Department memo is included in the .pdf to the right.

After the property was determined as surplus, the Board of Aldermen voted in June 2012 to form a joint advisory planning group that would study the possible reuse of the property. 

The 13-person JAPG met for three months and put together a final report in September 2012 with recommendations on the use for the Centre Street property. The full JAPG report is included in the .pdf to the right.

Keeping in mind historical preservation, pedestrian access, open space, cost to the city and the vitality of Newton Centre, the JAPG presented the following recommendations for the space:

  • The city should sell the property, with a minimum bid at $1 (although the Planning Department argues in its memo the minimum could be set higher) and require the buyer to preserve and restore the historic features of the property.
  • The city should suggest the buyer changes the rear wing of the building to create more open space and pedestrian flow.
  • The city should change the zoning to "Business 1" and should make clear to the buyer it is seeking a commercial/retail use for the building (possibly a restaurant or a food/crafts market)

With some adjustments to the building, the JAPG suggested the space could be converted into a restaurant or indoor farmers' market. 

"An ideal place to meet for lunch or pick up something for dinner, we felt this type of use would serve residents and workers in the community while filling a need in the area for a quality food market," the JAPG report says.

So, how do you think the city should reuse the building? What should a potential buyer do with the property? Share your ideas in the comments section below.

Regina Eliot Ramsey January 10, 2013 at 01:02 PM
It would be nice if the building was used as a gallery for artists in Newton to display their work. There could be play and poetry readings, and music performances. There just isn't much space for artists to show their work and, while the city wouldn't make money if they used the venue for that purpose, if they're selling it for only one dollar, then they might as well dedicate the building to the arts. The gallery could be run as a coop and the artists themselves would man the building.
Gus MacBride January 10, 2013 at 02:52 PM
Has the school dept looked at for use as after school or pre school space Gus MacBride.
Mark Golden January 12, 2013 at 03:00 AM
I would like to see the city sell the property. One of 2 ways. If it was sold for a very low amount, it would be on the condition its use would be for a number of small businesses, Personally I like to lean towards either a series of "flea market" type stalls selling, not necessarily hand made items, but not the type of good that would be found in the major Dept. stores. I have many years of flea marketeering and can think of dozens of possible vendor lines. Or it could be used as a year round indoor farmer's market, complete with deli, bakery, cheese shop, etc. Think of it as a suburban indoor Haymarket Square. It would remind people of the way, Fanueil Hall was when the Rouse Company reopened it back in the '70s. If the city sells it for a much higher amount (let's be realistic in that there needs to be major work done to bring the building up to codes, a restaurant would be the logical choice. Or would it? Not being an architect, I cannot say if it would be large enough to develop as office space, or housing(?), or even a mix use. But regardless, it can be a new focal point of Newton Centre.
Adam Maleson February 05, 2013 at 09:43 AM
Excellent suggestion, Regina. I also would endorse its return to the purpose for which it was built: branch library. Even if it is only a paperless internet-terminal library, there is no reason this use should not happen. It's one thing to argue that the physical book collection should be all amassed in one physical location, the main library. But to have more computer access terminals at the Newton Centre location makes absolute sense, and would relieve the demands on the computers at the main library.

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