Malden Advocate | Oct 4, 2019 | by Barbara Taormina
A plan to redevelop the Malden Hospital site has been a long time coming, but this week's presentation at the Beebe School Auditorium proved it was worth the wait. A small crowd turned out Wednesday night for the first public presentation of a community-focused redevelopment plan that's been in the works for the past year thanks to a partnership between the Friends of Fellsmere Heights and Boston Architectural College's Gateway Initiative Program.
BAC faculty advisor and architect Rashmi Ramaswamy worked with a team of students to produce a plan based on ideas and aspirations of the Friends, their supporters and Malden and Medford residents who had concerns about a proposal for a large private residential development and those who felt the hospital site is a community resource that is meant for a higher use.
Leah Emerson, who served as a liaison between the Boston Architectural College designers and the Friends board of directors, began the presentation with the results of an online survey of both Malden and Medford residents. The preservation of open space, tree cover and habitat restoration ranked as one of the highest priorities among those who responded. The use of the site for outdoor recreation and as a potential location for a community arts and cultural center and for a senior housing development were also supported by a majority of those who participated in the survey.
Those ideas and others were incorporated into several design options that Ramaswamy presented with a series of slides that all began with a large area of open green space that would be created once the hospital building is razed. Around that central green space, which could be used for sports, concerts or other community gatherings, would be embedded features, such as "playscapes," gardens and other natural or constructed outdoor nooks.
Another consistent feature in the different designs developed by Ramaswamy and her team is a 75-unit senior housing development at the end of the site, across from Glen Ridge Nursing Care Center. Although a high-rise tower would have preserved more open space, residents favored a medium-rise project that would be roughly the same size as the hospital building and about the height of the tree line.
"We knew some revenue-generating uses would be critical to the success of the project;' Ramaswamy told the audience as she moved on to the next piece of the plan. She then described three "design buckets," or options, that involve the rehabilitation and reuse of the nurses' dormitory, the hospital boiler building and the stretch of land between the two buildings. "They all offer opportunities for strategic partnerships and economic sustainability from an operational standpoint;' she said, adding that pieces of each option could also be mixed and matched.
A health and wellness option would renovate the four-story nurses' dormitory with roughly 24,000 square feet of space into a community health center with the possibility of offices for private practitioners, physical therapists, diagnostic labs and spaces for other health-care-related businesses. The 18,000-square foot boiler building could be converted into a fitness center with squash courts, yoga studios and other spaces for other types of fitness activities. The two buildings could be connected by a healing-themed garden. "This is just to show you things fit," said Ramaswamy. "lt's feasible."
A second business and arts option calls for renovating the nurses' dorm into a commercial hub with a business incubator and individual offices that would share work and meeting spaces. Ramaswamy said a rooftop deck with views of Fellsmere Park and Boston could be rented out for events like wedding receptions and reunions. The boiler building could be redeveloped into an arts center with studios and performance spaces while the space between the two buildings could be used for a sculpture garden.
A third possibility would be a housing and lifestyle option. Ramaswamy described the possibility of using the dormitory for a second residential housing project with small units that would be enhanced by transforming the boiler building into a shared community center with different amenities and shared spaces. The idea echoes Bay State Commons' plan for a cohousing development on the site of the former American Legion Post.
"You could consider series of different possibilities according to the strategic partnerships that evolve," Ramaswamy told the audience, adding that it would be up to residents to decide which spaces would be available for public use. Ramaswamy repeatedly highlighted the site's unique features, particularly its mature trees, panoramic views, different levels and its history. "It's up to us to honor the legacy of the site," she said. "And part of that legacy is to dedicate a large part for public benefit."
When the Friends of Fellsmere Heights first asked Boston Architectural College to take on the hospital project as part of the Gateway Initiative Program, the hope was to create a plan that would serve as an alternative to Fellsmere Housing Group's proposal for a private 250-unit residential development. But prior to Emerson's presentation of the results of the community survey and Ramaswamy's description of possible design options, Steven Keleti, a member of the Friends' board of directors, reminded the audience that circumstances surrounding the Malden Hospital site have changed.
Last month, MelroseWakefield Healthcare, which owns the hospital site, ended its relationship with Fellsmere Housing Group, which included a purchase and sales agreement. MelroseWakefield Healthcare also expressed a desire to work with Malden and Medford to find a solution for the site that supports the organization's overarching mission of promoting community health. Keleti said that with Fellsmere Housing Group's plan now off the table, the door has been opened for grants and funding opportunities that were previously unavailable because of the developer's purchase and sales agreement.
Keleti told the audience that the money is there if residents have a plan with sustainable goals and a desire to make it happen. "We are at a place where we can have a strong collaboration with MelroseWakefield," he said. "We can have a viable conversation about what's necessary to fulfill the community's health needs with the asset of the Malden Hospital land along the lines of what Elisha Converse had in mind when he put aside this land and gave the endowment for Malden Hospital over 100 years ago."