Worcester Common Project: Bigger on the Inside

If it seems as if the Common has been under construction forever, that’s because it has.

The city began talking about renovating the Common in 1990, a mere 23 years after it had previously been redone.  There have been a lot of fits and starts in the renovations, and reading nearly 20 years’ worth of newspaper articles about the discussions (and, later, the renovations) causes more questions than answers.

This post is an attempt to outline what’s happened on the Common for the past twenty or so years.

The phases (and the numbering of phases) change frequently, so I’ve put together a list of The Phases of Phases.

The estimated and actual costs of the project change even more frequently, and I’ve noted that in How much has the Common renovation cost?

If you get nothing else out of this long post, get this:

In 2005, the city received $5.6 million in federal transportation funds for the skating rink, pavilion, and bicycle pathways.

By that point (2005), the project had already cost $4 million to date.  We’d been told it was paid for with state and federal money, but previous newspaper articles indicated that the city paid $2 million (half) of the total cost.

I have no idea whether any of that $5.6 million was used to cover the previous $4 million.

But any way you cut it, this project has cost the city, the state, and the federal government a lot of money.  (And — remember — we only put in the skating rink.  We never did the pavilion or the bicycle pathways.)

The City Manager was on Jordan Levy this afternoon, and he said the $2 skating fee would go to the Worcester Public Library Foundation to fund Libby and other programming.

A lot of folks have had concerns about that $2 fee, and — despite what the City Manager says — it really doesn’t matter whether it’s going to a great cause or back into the general fund.

We have spent millions upon millions of dollars on the Common.

The federal funds were supposed to be used, in part, for a pavilion with bathroom facilities.  Instead, when I took my children to the Movies on the Common this summer, we had to use a port-a-potty.

Taxpayers have spent $39,000 for beautiful tables and chairs.  One Friday afternoon this summer, I attempted to have lunch with my son on the Common.  I say “attempted” because the chairs were locked to the tables in such a way that I couldn’t sit down.  $39,000 for chairs we can’t sit on.

We have spent $2.5 million to $3 million (my best guess from the newspaper accounts) on a rink and freezing equipment.  But skaters are still going to have to pony up $2 to get on the ice.

The City Manager also said there should be a fee for ice skating because there “has to be a perception of value.”

When people complain about a $2 fee to ice skate, it’s not about the Spag’s mentality.

It’s because they have already spent years waiting for the Common renovations to begin, and then waiting for them to complete, and because the government has already spent millions of dollars to get us to this point.

They’ve already perceived the value, and a bargain this ain’t.

The Phases of Phases:

1997 Phases: Phase 1, renovations to the surface of the plaza behind City Hall and the parking garage beneath; Phase 2, completing landscape improvements on the Common edges that skirt Front and Franklin Streets; Phase 3, redoing the reflecting pool; and Phase 4, installing new lighting, walks and making other cosmetic improvements throughout the area.

2001 Phases: Phase 1 remains renovations to the surface of the plaza and parking garage; Phase 2 seems to be redesigning the reflecting pool.

2004 Phases: “Phase one of the project includes demolition of the reflecting pool, major infrastructure improvements, erection of period fencing and furnishings, landscaping and the construction of two entrances that feature granite pillars.”

“Phase two of the project primarily involves work on the rink and a complementary storage facility, which would abut Front Street. The storage structure would also contain public restrooms.”

2005 Phases: Phase One: replacement of reflecting pool with a grass area; the construction of concrete pillars at the entranceways; new walking paths; and the installation of new lighting and benches.

Phase Two: work to the front area of City Hall and construction of a collapsible skating rink, a snack shop and maintenance facility, and the terminus for the Blackstone River Bikeway.

2007 Phases: Phase Three: work at City Hall planting trees, installing new bus shelters and jack-hammering the bland concrete to produce a brick-and-granite plaza

2010 Phases: According to Moylan, “Phase I, Phase IIB and Phase IIIA of the project have been completed, and his department has aggressively focused on the final design and construction of the remaining three phases.”  I have no idea what phases those might be.

How much has the Common renovation cost?
October 1990 – renovations were estimated at $5.4 million
October 1996 – the project plan was scaled back to $3 million from $7 million
March 1997 – the project plan was “scaled back” to $3.5 million from $7 million
May 2001 – the garage/plaza renovation phase was budgeted at $2.4 million
July 2001 – now we’re told it was “originally estimated to cost $2.55 million, but is now expected to come in at $2.38 million”; we’re also told that the second phase (walkways, filling in the reflecting pool, etc.) would cost $2 million (the city would invest $1 million and seek $1 million in state grants). I assume this puts the total project cost at about $4.4 million.
July 2002 – now we’re up to $5 million, with $1 million coming from federal allocations and $1 million from city appropriations
July 2002 – The estimate for how to fund the $5 million project is now $2 million from the feds, $2 million from the city, and $1 million in private donations
April 2005 – For “phase 1” (demolition of the reflecting pool and other activities; note that this is a different “phase 1” than the phase 1 that was completed in 2001), there’s $2 million in federal funds and $2 million in city funds
July 2005 – We receive $5.6 million in federal transportation funds for the skating rink, pavilion, and bicycle pathways
September 2005 – we’re told that this has cost $4 million to date and has been paid for with state and federal money. Not sure if the state reimbursed the city for the $2 million it put up.
May 2006 – The second phase (I assume this is work on the front area of City Hall, construction of a collapsible skating rink, a snack shop and maintenance facility, and the terminus for the Blackstone River Bikeway) will cost $4.4 million
December 2007 – The third phase (I assume this is work at City Hall planting trees, installing new bus shelters and breaking up the concrete to make way for a brick-and-granite plaza) will cost $5.8 million
March 2008 – The second phase (rink pad, I think) will cost $1.8 million
July 2008 – The current phase (rink pad, I think) will cost $1.7 million. When the pavilion and skating rink’s ice maker are completed, the whole price tag will be $4.2 million to $4.7 million. We also receive $543,000 from the state for landscaping and paving.

Below the break, I’ve put in a timeline of Telegram articles you can refer to.  If you don’t have a Telegram subscription, you can access the archives with your library card.

Timeline

25 August 1990 – “City applying for grant to spruce up downtown”:

The city plans to apply for a $1 million state Community Development Action Grant that would enable it to move forward on improvements planned for the area bounded by Main, Front and Franklin streets.

City Hall Plaza also would be redesigned under the proposal to make better use of existing space there, and Front and Franklin streets would be slightly realigned to enhance the park-like image of the Common.

The project, which would include improvements to the Common and the west plaza of the Worcester Center Galleria, is considered by city officials to be an essential element of the city’s downtown revitalization efforts.

According to city officials, the $1 million CDAG grant would be matched by the New England Development Co., owner of Worcester Center. Initial estimates for the complete beautification project are about $4 million.

7 October 1990 – “More than skin deep” (editorial):

Although the project will cost $5.4 million overall, only a fraction will come from city coffers.

 In fact, half of the total – $2.7 million – will be privately funded. New England Development Corp., Worcester Center co-owner, has pledged $1 million in improvements at its main entrance on Front Street. An additional $1.7 million will be raised in a corporate donations drive spearheaded by New England Development and the Telegram & Gazette.

 Nor will the city shoulder the other half alone. The City Council vote authorized the manager to apply to the state for a $1 million Community Action Development Grant for the project.

6 March 1991 – “Panelists discuss Common redesign”

28 June 1991 – “Funding for Common is going to other work”

7 October 1993 – “Workshop yields downtown ideas”; 60 people discussed ideas for a new common, including:

  •     Provide a sense of linkage between Worcester Center and City Hall.
  •     Have an amphitheater.
  •     Make City Hall more inviting by surrounding it with greenery and fountains.
  •     Consolidate monuments and relocate the memorial cemetery

Among other ideas at that meeting: a 300-car parking garage below the Common, “canopies for farmers market vendors, a children’s playground, a pond than can be used for ice skating (unlike the reflecting pool), and a food court.”  Also discussed: getting rid of the reflecting pool.

7 February 1995 – “‘State of the City’ reveals progress and lists goals”:

Construction will be in full swing on the Convention Center and the improvements to the Worcester Common during fiscal year 1996.

13 June 1995 –  “Hoover drafts $250M plan // 5-year schedule of improvements”: Hoover proposed $2.5 million for Worcester Common refurbishing

1 May 1996 – “Governor bestows largess on area”

“I planted a tree on the (Worcester) Common, and with the rain there’s absolutely nobody there,” [then-Governor Bill] Weld said. “We had a sound truck playing music, but no one there. It tickled my sense of the ridiculous.”

31 October 1996 – “Common project cutbacks proposed // City now offering less costly plan”

The city has proposed a scaled-back plan for renovating the Worcester Common that will cost $4 million less than the $7 million plan originally proposed.

 The $3 million proposal … includes $1 million for renovations to City Hall garage and plaza, and $960,000 to finish Streetscape improvements for Front Street, Franklin Street and the Main Street portion of City Hall plaza. There also is $850,000 allocated for new lighting, walks and other amenities, and $250,000 to remove the reflecting pool.

But other parts of the original plan – such as moving monuments and major landscape changes to the Common – are being deferred until the funding outlook improves, O’Neil said. The original preferred plan grew out of a series of broad-based planning groups, called charrettes, in 1993. …

It does not include a winter skating rink, for which interest has been shown recently, he said.

Originally the project was to be funded with $1 million from a state Community Development Action Grant, $1 million from private sector fund-raising and the rest from the city’s capital improvement plans. The CDAG grant is still pending state review, the private money never materialized, and the city is still awaiting state reimbursement for convention center bonds to make capital investment available for the Common renovation …

27 December 1996 – “Common project decision awaited // Design could be ready by spring”:

“One of the issues is whether you need the pool to bring in skaters, or do you set up an area for minimal flooding to set up a skating area,” [then-District 3 City Councilor Paul] Clancy said. “The reflecting pool creates a barrier from City Hall to other parts of downtown.”

“We would like to look at some kind of water feature in the Common,” [then-director of the city’s Office of Planning and Community Development Stephen] O’Neil said. “But the immediate need now is to fill in the reflecting pool.”

10 March 1997 – “Cost scaled back by half // Project planned in four phases”:

Renovations to the City Hall garage and the plaza above it will start early this summer, beginning the first of a four-phase reconstruction of Worcester Common.

“The total project cost has been scaled back to $3.5 million from more than $7 million,” City Manager Thomas R. Hoover said. The project has been pulled forward from a holding pattern where it was put early last year, when the city authorized borrowing $14.2 million for the convention center project.

The garage and decking work is scheduled first because the city can use an existing 4-year-old design, according to Planning and Community Development Director Stephen F. O’Neil.

He said the priority order for the rest of the project is: Phase 2, completing landscape improvements on the Common edges that skirt Front and Franklin Streets; Phase 3, redoing the reflecting pool; and Phase 4, installing new lighting, walks and making other cosmetic improvements throughout the area.

5 April 1997 – “Common sense // Worcester’s central park to get a facelift”:

A sensibly modest project to refurbish and partially reconstruct Worcester Common will start later this year. It is scheduled to be completed by next spring.

Funded by a $3.5 million bond issue to be floated after the next fiscal year begins in July, the project will proceed in four phases. The project has been scaled back from a more ambitious makeover that included major landscape changes and relocation of monuments costing $7 million.

The first phase will involve renovations to the surface of the plaza behind City Hall and the parking garage beneath. The broken and missing paving tiles on the plaza, used for outdoor gatherings and cultural activities, have been an eyesore and pedestrian hazard for some time.

The next phase will complete ongoing landscape enhancements along the Common’s edges bordering Front and Franklin streets. That should serve to soften the park’s perimeter and make it more inviting to visitors.

Phase 3 involves filling in the reflecting pool and landscaping the area with trees, plantings and other amenities.

30 May 1997 – “City Hall plaza project to be bid”:

“We expect to put the project out to bid and have a contractor on line to start construction early in the next fiscal year, sometime in July or early August,” [Stephen] O’Neil said Wednesday.

The plaza and garage work is the first part of the long-planned $3.5 million Worcester Common renovation project.

Architectural plans for the plaza and garage work were drawn some time ago. But remainder of the Worcester Common restoration plans will be done by an architectural firm to be selected next month.

The restoration project includes filling in the reflecting pool, installing new lighting and walks and other landscaping around the perimeter of the common.

O’Neil said the reflecting pool is being eliminated because of continuing maintenance problems. The pool, he said, also was a “pedestrian obstacle” that prevented people from walking directly across the common from Portland to Commercial streets.

9 August 1997 – “City Hall plaza repairs to cost $1 million”:

At the Aug. 19 City Council meeting, City Manager Thomas R. Hoover will present a loan order for more than $1 million for rehabilitation work on the City Hall plaza and parking garage.

[Then-deputy director of the Office of Planning and Community Development Dennis] Hennessy said that a new waterproofing membrane will be installed, along with other weatherproofing improvements. He said accessibility for the handicapped will be improved, and that touches like fencing and better landscaping will help improve the look of the area.

Hennessy said the construction is expected to begin this fall and be completed by spring. This is the first of four phases of the $3.5 million Worcester Common renovation project.

5 July 1999 – “Plans for downtown get good response”:

“City councilors’ recommendations for revitalizing downtown” included “allow[ing] ice skating at the Worcester Common reflecting pool.”

9 January 2000 – “Hopes, dreams don’t materialize with city projects”

Who knows where the Common redesign project stands.

2 May 2000 – “Plan would revitalize downtown New investment, culture, added greenery part of mix”:

The Center City Development Council recommended “relocating the bus stop in front of City Hall and redesigning that area and the rest of the Worcester Common with more greenery and space for public events, and eliminating the reflecting pool.”

3 May 2000 – “Downtown development takes some little digs”:

Worcester’s chief development officer [Everett R. Shaw] believes city government ought to be more aggressive in tackling those small but very visible downtown work projects.

At the unveiling Monday of the Center City Development Council’s plan for downtown, Everett R. Shaw recalled a visit last year by some developers interested in doing business in Worcester. At the time, the fountains on Worcester Common were out of commission and the reflecting pool was bone dry in the middle of summer.

Four weeks later, the developers were in town again and the fountains were still not working.

Mr. Shaw said the inability of the city to get the fountains working in a timely manner didn’t boost confidence in downtown development.

He added the Band-Aid tar patching of the broken bricks behind City Hall didn’t help either.

31 May 2001 – “Worcester to seek state grant to redo Common”, details plans to apply for a $250k state grant:

In the early 1990s, a “preferred plan” for the Common was established through a master planning process. Its main focus is to increase the available space on the Common so it can adequately host major events and activities.

Some components of that plan call for improved infrastructure, path systems, lighting and universal access. The cost to implement the entire master plan for City Hall and the Common was pegged at more than $7 million.

But fiscal constraints facing Worcester at that time prevented the city from going forward with the plan. Eventually, the project was scaled back and broken down into phases to be implemented over time.

The first phase is under way with the $2.4 million renovation of the City Hall underground garage and the plaza area above it behind City Hall. [Then-Commissioner of Parks] O’Brien said that phase of the overall master plan will complement City Hall and the Common with granite paving, wrought-iron rails, period lighting fixtures and benches, as well as infrastructure tie-ins for events on the Common.

Mr. O’Brien said the next logical step is to creatively redesign the reflecting pool in the Common so more space can become available for events. He said the intent is to provide a smaller “tasteful water feature” that can serve as a central gathering place.

The commissioner emphasized that all design efforts to plan for this project would be done in an public process to include various veterans groups, park advocates, the Massachusetts Historical Commission, the Worcester Historical Commission and other civic groups.

The estimated cost of the Common improvement project is $650,000.

24 July 2001 – “Work at Common ahead of schedule Renovated garage due to be ready by Aug. 6”:

The first phase was the renovation of the underground garage and City Hall plaza. It was originally estimated to cost $2.55 million, but is now expected to come in at $2.38 million, [then-Parks Commissioner Michael] O’Brien said.

He said the renovated underground garage will be ready for use on Aug. 6, more than 11/2 months ahead of the originally scheduled Sept. 30. …

He said the next logical step is to work on the Common’s reflecting pool. He said efforts will be made to creatively redesign it so more space can be made available for events on the Common, while still providing a tasteful water feature in the park.

Mr. O’Brien said parks officials also want to be able to make the Common an ice-skating venue during the winter.

“This approach would create a comprehensive and integrated four-season downtown gathering space,” he said.

The estimated cost of the second phase is $2 million. Mr. O’Brien said he had envisioned spending $650,000 for the second phase, but is seeking additional money for more extensive work.

In addition to authorizing the use of the $170,000 savings from the garage project, the City Council has authorized City Manager Thomas R. Hoover to file state grant proposals for the second phase.

The Office of Environmental Affairs is offering grants for the preservation and restoration of urban parks.

There is a maximum of $250,000 per grant source and the city is seeking a waiver of that cap. He said the city would like the state to match the $1 million it plans to invest in the park with $1 million in grants. …

He added that the Office of Environmental Affairs has made it clear that to get any grant, the city must complete the master plan update and the fiscal year 2002 construction budget for $830,000 for the second phase.

1 August 2001 – “Common progress City Hall project moving ahead of schedule” [editorial]:

Parks Commissioner Michael V. O’Brien estimates this phase [renovation of underground garage and plaza] will cost about $170,000 less than expected and should be completed by Aug. 6, rather than Sept. 30.

Moreover, the savings will be used to update a master plan for Worcester Common, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. Plans to renovate the 5.2-acre park behind City Hall have been discussed since the early 1990s.

Redesigning the Common is a logical next step in increasing and improving public access to City Hall and surrounding public areas. Particularly welcome is the proposal to rethink the reflecting pool that dominates the north half of the Common.

19 October 2001 – “Common sense; Renovation of Worcester ‘jewel’ key to downtown”

The concept being floated by city officials is promising. One goal is to make the Common a more suitable venue for summer concerts, ethnic festivals and special events, while continuing to serve as a pleasant retreat for downtown workers and residents.

That will entail a major downsizing, at minimum, of the 30-year-old reflecting pool that dominates the Common. Almost from the beginning, maintaining the pool’s mechanical systems and keeping it free of litter and other debris have been chronic headaches.

A smaller water feature would make room for the broad public space designers envision and provide room for more tree-shaded walkways and benches.

19 November 2001 – “Officials check out plaza”:

Benches, iron rails and ramps on both sides of the plaza round out the $2.3 million City Hall Plaza renovation and improvement project.

At a ribbon-cutting ceremony yesterday, city officials touted the project as an investment for the people of the city.

“This will last 100 years,” City Manager Thomas R. Hoover said. “This is good for the people. A good investment.” …

The Worcester Common will undergo aesthetic changes, Mr. Hoover said. State and federal funding of $1 million over two years and matching city funds will allow a reduction in the size of the reflecting pool and more work on the Common. The estimated cost for all renovations under the city’s master plan is $7 million.

23 November 2001 – “Common sense ; Promising redesign ideas aired at hearing” [editorial about planning process]

9 January 2002 – “$5M makeover of Common ; Restoration work slated to begin this spring”:

A long-sought refurbishment of the Common will begin this spring, with features including an outdoor winter skating rink, quiet seating enclaves, restored monuments, new benches and event spaces.

City Manager Thomas R. Hoover and Mayor Timothy P. Murray announced the $5 million restoration plan yesterday. Key funding supporters U.S. Rep. James P. McGovern, D-Worcester, and state Secretary of Environmental Affairs Robert A. Durand were on hand to cheer the project. …

As planned, the project will get under way this spring with $2 million in initial funding — $1 million in federal Land and Water Conservation Fund allocations and two $500,000 appropriations from the city.

City officials said they will seek more money from the state Urban Self Help grants program and a second appropriation next year from the Land and Water Conservation Fund to finish the second phase of the project. The city will also look to private fund raising and contributions from local businesses to provide up to $1 million or more toward the project, city Parks and Recreation Commissioner Michael V. O’Brien said.

The design, still being developed, will include the traditional walking paths crisscrossing the Common. The reflecting pool that now dominates the historic five-acre plot will be removed.

An oval area in the center of the Common will be used for ice skating in the winter and for other events during warmer weather. Gardens will fill some of the space in front of the 66-foot angel-topped Civil War soldiers memorial, which will remain in the northeast corner.

30 March 2002 – “$200,000 payment withheld ; Officials upset with renovations on City Hall garage, plaza”:

City officials, upset with the work by the Boston company hired to renovate the garage and plaza at City Hall, are withholding $200,000 in payment.

Michael V. O’Brien, commissioner of parks, recreation and cemeteries, said the roof of the underground garage behind City Hall still leaks in some places, and many of the new granite tiles on the plaza were installed improperly.

 Mr. O’Brien said workers with T-Equipment Corp. of Dorchester are expected to begin work soon to rectify those and other problems.

The City Council last year authorized about $2.5 million to address the failures of the concrete superstructure of the garage/ plaza and its subdrainage systems.

Those inadequacies caused water to leak into the garage below the plaza and into the basement of City Hall. It also forced the bricks in the plaza to loosen, thus creating an uneven walking surface.

The plaza and garage were closed from April to August of last year for the work, which was financed by 20-year bonds issued by the city.

9 July 2002 – “Common beauty plan gets lift ; Heritage park designation announced”:

U.S. Rep. James P. McGovern, Mayor Timothy P. Murray and City Manager Thomas R. Hoover laid out plans to combine $2 million in city funds, $2 million in federal park funds, and $1 million to be raised privately, to pay for the redevelopment project set to get under way next spring. …

David M. Peters, commissioner of the state Division of Fisheries & Wildlife, said the project … will also tie in with the renovation and creation of new riverside parks and bicycle trails throughout the Blackstone Valley and leading into Worcester.

Mr. Murray said the new look that will be created at the Common, with facilities for events and concerts, as well as a winter skating area and more green space, will help bring more activity downtown throughout the year. The oval-shaped skating rink will replace the reflecting pool and a plaza for summer activities will be built.

13 November 2002 – “Central Mass. parks receive new funding; Money influx invigorates open-space projects”:

“$1 million in federal funds toward the $5 million reconstruction of Worcester Common.”

13 March 2003 – “City still plans to refurbish Common”:

Despite the budget crisis facing the city and private financing that has yet to materialize, the city still intends to move forward with the $5 million project to refurbish the Common.

The City Council Tuesday night appropriated $150,000 so contractual obligations can be met for completed work associated with the project. …

Mrs. Lukes also pointed out that private efforts to raise $1 million for the rehabilitation of the Common have produced nothing, even though it has been 10 years since the idea was broached.

She wondered how much money the local private sector is going to be able to deliver for the project. She pointed out that many of the same companies and foundations that will be asked to contribute money for this project will also be asked to donate money to make up for the loss of certain municipal services, such as keeping city pools and beaches open. …

Michael V. O’Brien, commissioner of parks, recreation and cemetery, said the city has already secured $4 million for the project. Half of that, $2 million, was obtained through a key federal grant acquired with the help of U.S. Rep. James P. McGovern, D-Worcester.

Mr. O’Brien said the process to raise $1 million in private money for the Common project is a “work in progress.” He said many local businesses and foundations have expressed an interest and pledged support for the project, though no specific amounts of money have been pledged to date.

4 June 2003 – “Reflecting pool to fade into history”:

City officials don’t plan on filling the pool this summer.

Next year, with the multimillion-dollar makeover of the Common area well in progress, the pool will be history.

The structure wasn’t filled with water last year because of the drought. …

Finally, the Common renovation is expected to begin in July.

5 May 2004 – “Elm Park turns 150 this year ; Festivities eyed for anniversary”; brief discussion of how Common renovations would cause relocation for Latin Festival and farmers’ market.

6 May 2004 – “Rink plan questioned by church”:

“We don’t think that it’s right to have a skating rink and an area that will be used for gatherings on land that is a cemetery for former members,” said James R. Cote, moderator of the 140-member [First Congregational Church], which is now on Pleasant Street in the city’s Tatnuck Square area.

The church yesterday sent a letter to the city’s Law Department noting that the congregation’s council voted its displeasure with the plan to renovate the 5-acre common. …

The groundbreaking ceremony for the multimillion-dollar project is scheduled for noon tomorrow.

8 May 2004 – “‘Green oasis’ work begins; Renovation of Common”:

Phase one of the project includes demolition of the reflecting pool, major infrastructure improvements, erection of period fencing and furnishings, landscaping and the construction of two entrances that feature granite pillars.

City officials hope phase one will be finished by December.

3 June 2004 – “Residents skeptical of projects; Common demolition good for sightseeing”; Dianne Williamson column:

I think most of us would settle for an aesthetically pleasing downtown Common, although I wonder who had the bright idea for a skating rink near the plaza. Was there a big demand for skating facilities downtown? Are we thinking Rockefeller Center?

Maybe, when the rink is finished, we could get actress Judith Light to return to Worcester and execute a figure eight.

24 July 2004 – “Gravestones found under Common sidewalk; Work in area halted while situation assessed”

29 July 2004 – “Common work is scrutinized; Historical review is sought”

10 August 2004 – “Panel won’t review project; Common plan foes to discuss concerns”:

“The First Congregational Church of Worcester, which once owned the Common area, … has been trying to stop some of the work, particularly construction of a skating rink near City Hall, because the bodies of ancestors of congregation members are buried under the historic parcel.”

13 August 2004 – “Burial ground may return; Common plans may be revised”

18 August 2004 – “Board has new vision for eyesore ; House in Main South may dodge demolition”:

Some more news filtered out of City Hall last week regarding the controversial plan to build an ice skating rink on historic Worcester Common.

Many question how many would use the facility, if it were to be built, and what would be done with it during the off-season.

Well, the Parks, Recreation and Cemetery Department, which oversees the Common, hasn’t done a marketing study, so no one’s sure how popular the rink would be.

But city officials said the rink will pose no maintenance or other problems during nonwinter months because it basically won’t be there.

When the skating season is over, the rink’s side boards will be taken down, leaving an open public space that can be used for events like festivals and municipal press conferences.

There are still some concerns, however, about the auxiliary building that will be set up to service the rink and serve as a garage for the rink’s Zamboni.

Preservationists are upset because they believe the building will stick out like a sore thumb, upsetting the pastoral balance of the Common.

City officials insist that they are sensitive to those concerns and will work to make sure the building blends in with the surroundings.

16 September 2004 – “Bones, skull found during Common work; UMass archaeologists to study remains”

20 November 2004 – “Construction won’t halt holiday festivities; Common work leads to uncommon ritual”:

This year, however, the multi-phased Worcester Common rehabilitation precludes a tannenbaum. The work this construction season is expected to continue into December.

19 April 2005 – “First phase near end; More funds sought for Common renovation”:

Since work started last May, workers have removed the dilapidated reflecting pool, laid down new walks, constructed pillars at the entranceways and thinned out diseased and dying trees. City officials said the renovation was warranted because the area had lost its allure as a gathering spot. They said the renovations would once again bring visitors downtown and would complement the plan to replace the Worcester Common Outlets with an urban village.

Phase one was funded by $2 million from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund and $2 million from the city. …

Phase two of the project primarily involves work on the rink and a complementary storage facility, which would abut Front Street. The storage structure would also contain public restrooms.

During the off-season, the rink can be taken down and the site may be used as a gathering or picnic area.

13 July 2005 – “Common all spruced up, but there’s nowhere to sit”:

Then there’s the issue of a skating rink and bicycle pavilion that were supposed to be part of the Common package, but are nowhere to be seen.

Ms. Jacobson said the rink and pavilion are still part of the plan, but she had no information yesterday on a timetable for their constructions. A status report from the Parks Department is due in a few days, she said.

The city is working on programming to go with the skating rink, she said.

The rink and pavilion were slated to be part of the second phase of the project that city officials recently said could start in the fall.

If federal money comes through, that is.

The approximately $4 million in federal highway funds earmarked for the work – part of a multibillion-dollar highway bill – were still being debated in Congress this month. The money should be approved, according to Michael Mershon, a spokesman for U.S. Rep. James P. McGovern, D-Worcester.

30 July 2005 – “Worcester gets $31M in transport funds:”

“$5.6 million for completion of the Worcester Common reconstruction project, including money for a skating rink, a bicycle pavilion and pathways.”

20 September 2005 – “Common interest; Reopened Worcester park greeted with delight”

The work, to date, has cost about $4 million and was funded by state and federal money.

Next spring, work is expected to begin on a collapsible skating rink that will be located near the plaza area, as well as a bicycle pavilion and pathways.

That phase will be funded by $5.6 million in federal highway and transit money that was garnered this summer by U.S. Rep. James P. McGovern, D-Worcester.

Mr. O’Brien said that only the affected portion of the Common will be closed during the Phase 2 work.

12 October 2005 – “City has big plans for Common; Rain can’t diminish enthusiasm at dedication”

First-phase work included replacement of the problematic reflecting pool with a grass area, which may be used for special events; the construction of concrete pillars at the entranceways; new walking paths; and the installation of new lighting and benches.

The Common was closed all of last year, as work crews from Emmanuel Brothers, the general contractor, began reworking the landmark landscape.

It was opened unexpectedly Sept. 20.

Officials said the Common will not be closed next spring, when phase two construction begins. That phase will include work to the front area of City Hall and construction of a collapsible skating rink, a snack shop and maintenance facility, and the terminus for the Blackstone River Bikeway.

9 May 2006 – “City will delay ice rink project; Latin Fest can use Common”:

City officials have pushed back to September the start of construction of an ice skating rink and pavilion on the Worcester Common, after organizers of the city’s Latin American Festival complained that they did not want their popular event barred from the Common for the third straight year.

The two-day festival, which draws some 30,000 revelers to downtown each summer, was forced off the grassy Common and onto the concrete plaza in front of City Hall in 2004 and 2005 as the Common underwent the $4 million part of an $8.04 million renovation. …

City Manager Michael V. O’Brien said he had been trying to accommodate the festival while starting construction of the $4.4 million second phase of the three-part project as soon as possible.

2 December 2007 – “Farmers market to move; City Hall work will disrupt area”

“Phase 3 of the $5.8 million Worcester Common Restoration project ” included “work at City Hall planting trees, installing new bus shelters and jack-hammering the bland concrete to produce a brick-and-granite plaza shouldn’t take all summer and fall to complete”.

25 March 2008 – “Ice skate rink bids due: Work behind City Hall to start in spring”

Longstanding plans to refurbish the Common are heading into their second phase with bids on a $1.8 million restoration phase that includes an oval rink pad – which will be used in the warm months as a setting for lunch tables and food vendors – due April 4.

Work is slated to start this spring and be done by fall, with the rink expected to open as soon as next winter directly behind City Hall. …

“There will be a large size oval and ice skating from November to March. In the summer we can have tables, chairs and vendors,” [Antonelli] continued.

Critics say the city should focus not only on sprucing up the park but also on improving streets and sidewalks surrounding it before adding untested amenities such as a skating rink and pavilion, which is envisioned as the endpoint of a long bikeway from Providence through the Blackstone River National Heritage Corridor.

7 July 2008 – “Ice idea?: Construction bumps summer events”

The current portion of the undertaking is costing $1.7 million. When the pavilion and underlying ice-making technology for the rink are completed sometime next year, the price tag will go up another $2.5 million to $3 million, according to city officials.

In the meantime, a host of summer events – which in the past have included an ice cream festival, Smiley Face Day, Festival of Lights and Latino Festival – will be displaced to other locations by the construction.

Another phase of the project, to be paid for with $543,000 from the state, is set to begin this month and will spruce up the landscaping and paving around City Hall.

3 February 2010 – “Delays persist for city ice rink: Skaters must cool heels next winter”

Robert L. Moylan Jr., commissioner of public works and parks, said his department is working with the Massachusetts Department of Transportation to complete design documents for the phase of the Common renovation project that includes the construction of the Blackstone Valley Bikeway Pavilion, which will house the ice plant and chiller equipment for the ice rink and event oval and air conditioning for City Hall.

That phase also includes the construction of the bikeway connection from Franklin and Front streets to the entrance to the City Hall underground parking garage, he said.

But Mr. Moylan said that phase of the Common project is not expected to be advertised by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation until the second quarter of this year. As a result, he said, construction is not expected to begin until the fall, and it is expected to take 12 to 18 months to complete. …

The Blackstone Valley Bikeway Pavilion will be built on the Common, north of the skating rink on the Front Street side of the park.

Mr. Moylan said the pavilion will be an “invaluable addition” to the city and to the Blackstone Valley Bikeway. But, he pointed out, the facility will require additional staff to manage and operate. …

He said Phase I, Phase IIB and Phase IIIA of the project have been completed, and his department has aggressively focused on the final design and construction of the remaining three phases.

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2 thoughts on “Worcester Common Project: Bigger on the Inside

  1. Bob Swenson says:

    You have done an excellent job of documenting all the changes done to the Common. I’m producing a videor that will show how the Common has changed. Do you have any photos of the Common showing the progress over the years?

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