In the historic Boston neighborhood of Nubian Square, a wellspring of revitalization is replacing blighted areas with innovative community developments that seek to clean up the environment and provide affordable housing. 

environmental justice

The $20 million, 60-unit Bartlett Station mixed-use apartment building and the $18.9-million, 50-unit LEED Silver-targeted Kenzi at Barlett Station senior housing development—affordable housing projects on a former brownfield sites—are examples of this trend. Engineers and architects are collaborating with developers to improve the neighborhood with a history of contamination and poor air quality caused by the former Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority bus and train maintenance facility.

The maintenance buildings at the site contained asbestos and lead paint and soils were contaminated, which may have contributed to high asthma rates in the  largely minority neighborhood, according to an EPA report.

Cleanup, overseen by Weston & Sampson, the licensed site professional, included abatement of asbestos and excavation of contaminated soils, said Frank Gardner, Brownfields and Sustainable Materials Management EPA Section Chief for Boston. 

Construction for Bartlett Station A began in April and is “now in the rough wood framing stage … tracking toward completion in November 2022, says Erica Jarvis, NEI General Contracting project manager. Across the street at Kenzi, which began in October, ground improvements are complete, and foundations are ongoing with completion expected in 2023. 

“A traditional lack of diversity and inclusion in the … industry, is the focus for construction contractors working in Roxbury, as well as the BPDA [Boston Planning and Development Agency] and the community,” says John Ferrante, CEO of the Associated General Contractors of Massachusetts. He spoke on Nov. 11 with three contractor executives about the projects in Roxbury and Dorchester.  

The Bartlett Station project is generating construction and permanent jobs with the goal of “targeting most of the contract dollars to minority-owned businesses,” the EPA said. As the sole construction manager for Bartlett Station and Kenzi, NEI’s community outreach efforts were focused on diverse business participation and goals set out in Boston’s resident jobs policy, Jarvis says. That policy requires at least 50% of total construction work hours for large jobs go to Boston residents, 25% to people of color, and 10% to women.

Bartlett Station will expand a complex completed in 2019 that includes another 60-unit rental apartment building and a 16-unit condominium building. Roxbury non-profit Nuestra Comunidad Development Corp. and Windale Developers, Dorchester, Mass., have joined to redevelop the site into 390 new homes for working families and 30,000 sq ft of commercial space. 

The Boston Planning and Development Authority also voted Nov. 18 to “tentatively designate” Drexel Village LLC for a “family-focused and community-oriented” mixed-use development. It also released a request for proposals in October to develop a nearly 8-acre vacant parcel of BPDA-owned land close to public transit and schools. RFP responses are due on Feb. 2. Following the discovery of lead, trichloroethylene and other contaminants in the soil, the agency authorized a design contract with GEI in August to remediate the parcel. A litany of failed ideas have been proposed for the site over five decades, including Tremont Crossing, which was expected to be one of the region’s largest new developments with a museum and cultural center. 

“In Boston’s strong union environment, many larger general contractors are concerned about having an emerging diverse business signed with the union so they can land subcontract work,” Ferrante says. 

Bert Durand, spokesperson for the North Atlantic States Regional Council of Carpenters says, “Responsible development should include diversity, inclusion and equity paired with training that provides workers with opportunities for careers—not just jobs—and a firm commitment to use local workers and local contractors.”