College discusses plans for Little Building in public hearing

by Laura King / Beacon Staff • February 25, 2015

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A public meeting about the planned renovation of the Little Building introduced new details about facilities and common room designs.

In November, Emerson announced the 97-year-old structure would undergo extensive modernization efforts, starting as soon as 2017. The meeting on Feb. 24, at the Hyatt Regency, was hosted by the Boston Redevelopment Authority as part of the college’s planning process and had an audience of about 15.

The Little Building project will focus on securing the structure, adding student beds by adding a new 13th floor, and revamping the dining hall.

“Everybody has a story about the Little Building,” said Margaret Ings, associate vice president for government and community relations at Emerson, as she introduced the presentation. “What we’re trying to do is really bring it back to life.”

Ross Cameron, an architect at Elkus Manfredi Architects, the firm Emerson has hired for this project, led the presentation. He showed a 3D simulation of the Little Building’s facade, which demonstrated how the building’s exterior, and underlying steel supports, have deteriorated over time. Cameron said this is the main issue with the building. To prevent the crumbling facade from falling on pedestrians, the college, in 2009, erected the scaffolding that still surrounds the Little Building.

Cameron said the exterior faces of the first and second floors would be restored, while the floors above would be completely replaced.

Two meeting attendees asked about how Emerson would preserve the building’s historic architecture. Ings responded by saying that the college’s goal is, in fact, to revitalize the building’s original design.

The building’s common rooms, which currently all face the neighboring Colonial Building, will be converted into dormitory rooms. The new common rooms will be the height of two floors and have sheer glass walls, contrasting the historic architecture; they will be built in the empty spaces currently between suites on the Tremont Street side of the building, he said.

Each floor will be able to access three common rooms, he said. The glass walls will allow natural light to flow in from Tremont Street, and open shafts between the common rooms and dorms will let in additional light.

Cameron said that a new seismic system will be implemented to get the building up to current earthquake safety codes.

The college is targeting a LEED Gold certification for the renovated building, meaning it would meet high environmental standards.

“This is the way we’re going to bring the Little Building into this century,” said Cameron, “and through the next 75 or 100 years.”

During the Little Building renovation, set to take place from 2017 to 2019, the dorm will be closed to students. Since a planned new dorm at 1-3 Boylston Place will only house around 375 students when it’s scheduled to open in 2017—about half of the Little Building’s current occupancy—the college is currently researching additional locations in the area to house students, according to Ings. She said that the college has worked to improve the off-campus housing office in anticipation of the Little Building closing.

This meeting was one of the final stages in the college’s process for BRA approval, said Katelyn Sullivan, a project manager at the BRA. The college conclude the process on March 10, when the period for public comments ends.