Suffolk County Courthouse Discussion | 3 Pemberton Square | Government Center

nico

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From the article "It wouldn’t be the first time the 24-story courthouse, located in Government Center, shut its doors."

Is this thing really 24 stories?
 

DZH22

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Oh how I have hoped for this day. I don't even care if they replace it, just tear it down.

http://www.boston.com/news/local/ma...e-its-doors/G2LbC36zPcXpfBBo47nwoO/story.html
GREAT IDEA! LET'S TEAR DOWN ONE OF THE OLDEST SKYSCRAPERS IN THE CITY, AND ONE OF THE ONLY EXAMPLES OF ART DECO IN BOSTON! WE CAN REPLACE IT WITH ANOTHER KENSINGTON!

But seriously, please take some time to expand on your asinine comment. Maybe we can tear down the Custom House and Old Hancock next.
 

datadyne007

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From the article "It wouldn’t be the first time the 24-story courthouse, located in Government Center, shut its doors."

Is this thing really 24 stories?
All the articles call it 24 stories, as they are simply using the strange floor numbering scheme. In fact, the building is a whopping 330' and consists of around 19 habitable floors. The FTF heights are very high.

I'm very disappointed to hear talk of it being torn down and broken elevators as a central excuse. The elevators in that place are incredible vintage Otis from the 30s. You can even still see the handles in the doors from when they were manually operated. The original hall lanterns are also beautiful. It is a shame that the State let these elevators fall as far into disrepair as they have. The private elevator in the back that they use to bring the jury up to the courtrooms is entirely original, gated and manually operated too. That's a real gem. There are plenty of vintage Otis elevators around the country that have been modernized and are operating beautifully. Not to mention this tower is a rare dose of Art Deco for Boston. It would be a huge loss. The tower should be invested in, repaired, and modernized. Windows leak? Replace them. Elevators break? Modernize them. Etc... I fully support my tax dollars going to save this great building.
 

statler

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Right, this is a bit complicated. I would love to see this building rehabbed but I'm not sure that it is really worth the cost to do it properly. It's seems like a lot of the problems are structural and would require a massive investment in time and money.

I like the building as far as it goes but I always though it looked a little awkward next to Adams.
 

type001

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GREAT IDEA! LET'S TEAR DOWN ONE OF THE OLDEST SKYSCRAPERS IN THE CITY, AND ONE OF THE ONLY EXAMPLES OF ART DECO IN BOSTON! WE CAN REPLACE IT WITH ANOTHER KENSINGTON!

But seriously, please take some time to expand on your asinine comment. Maybe we can tear down the Custom House and Old Hancock next.
Sure, I would love to expand on my asinine comment. Please forgive me for not using all caps nor flying off the handle.

1) In addition to the $40m to renovate it in the last decade (which didn't work), hundreds of millions of dollars have been dumped into renovations and support that ultimately has had little to no effect.

2) Many employees have contracted a wide range of sicknesses over the years that have been linked back to tenure in the courthouse.

3) I do personally believe the thing is an eyesore and don't think it is worth dumping more money into despite it being "old". You don't just hang onto to something that is old. Let me point out that I was very happy that the Verizon Building (the good Art Deco one) was renovated and not torn down nor even built onto... not because it was simply old, but because it is a work of art that was salvageable and desired to work in.
 

davem

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I was just there for jury duty, the building is absolutely gorgeous inside, albeit run down from being horribly mismanaged over the years. It should absolutely be saved.



Remember that the costs of tearing down a building aren't just what you pay a contractor to go out there to blow it up. There are inherent costs in the original production of the material, the labor to put it up, and the environmental cost of sending an entire building to the landfill. Even the materials that can be recycled consume energy in the process of re-converting them into something usable. On top of that, there is no way a new building would be nearly as beautiful or crafted as well. "The greenest building is one that already exists" isn't just a buzz phrase, with very few exceptions it is the truth. Even if you built a LEED platinum tower in it's place, the costs of loosing all that material and having to acquire new materials would take generations to offset.

Regarding the elevators "not working", that is 100% the states fault. Allston Hall (Jack Young Co) has it's two manual, wooden 1895 McLauthlin elevators running every day hauling freight due to a regular preventative maintenance schedule. Otis built a quality product back in the day, if it's not working it's due to lack of proper maintenance. I'd venture the roof leaks and window problems are the same issue. Retrofitting central air in is difficult, but not impossible. I can't imagine why they didn't do that (and a full window rehab/replacement) when it was closed down years ago.



Sell it to a historic developer. Historic preservation tax credits exist exactly for a project like this; where demolition in lieu of preservation seems better due to structural issues. The court could even lease the space back after completion of the project. The empire state building is a perfect case study for this. Similar physical plant issues were causing a whole slew of issues, and now it's one of the greenest buildings in the city. This isn't exactly rocket science.
 
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Hutchison

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Honestly the last time I was in there for a trial was a bit jarring. Trying to concentrate while on a top floor in a sun filled room with no air conditioning in July is a bit difficult... It's always fun when your decision is between practicing in a sauna or opening the windows and trying to shout over the construction going on outside. I'm pretty sure the case went an extra two days due to the number of breaks the witnesses needed.
 

F-Line to Dudley

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If they want to solve the maintenance issues that no amount of money to-date hasn't kept from coming back, just about the only thing they can do to it is a total inside gut job down to the skeleton and preserve nothing but the exterior. And that probably means private bucks, private future tenants only, and sacrificing whatever historic value it has anywhere on the interior.

And if those costs don't wash...maybe the only thing they can do is demolish it.

It just isn't worth lighting another several dozen million on fire when the last several renovations haven't stuck and the building has all sorts of systemic problems affecting quality of life of those who have to work there. That thing is not so old that preservation is worth it if it doesn't return a fully usable building into completely full, unimpeded use. I don't see how that's possible without at minimum a top-to-bottom gutting. They know what they're getting if they try to "fix" it again; the same fixes that don't hold like all the other fast fixes they tried that haven't held up. And someone has to really, really like the structure to want to pony up the premium for a total gutting job.
 

bosdevelopment

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I don't have a problem with Suffolk Superior Except for the lack of air conditioning. The interior and lobby are handsome, as are the finishes within the courtrooms. Attention should be drawn to other, mainly district, courts across the state. Lowell District is particularly bad. Being in there is depressing enough. Quincy is literally a nightmare.

Conversely the new Cambridge District Courthouse, located in Medford, is overly sterile. As is the 7-story Middlesex Superior in Woburn on 128.
 

DZH22

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Sure, I would love to expand on my asinine comment. Please forgive me for not using all caps nor flying off the handle.
Your comment suggesting we tear down one of the only historic towers in the city is what caused me to fly off the handle. Please forgive me if I refuse to apologize and hold your comment in complete contempt. (of court! ha! that one just popped out of nowhere)

But seriously, when you advocate tearing down pieces of my city, don't be surprised when this is my reaction. In fact, this is still me being calm about it.


3) I do personally believe the thing is an eyesore and don't think it is worth dumping more money into despite it being "old". You don't just hang onto to something that is old. Let me point out that I was very happy that the Verizon Building (the good Art Deco one) was renovated and not torn down nor even built onto... not because it was simply old, but because it is a work of art that was salvageable and desired to work in.
I personally believe it's a landmark and worth preserving. In particular, it has a huge presence from the Longfellow Bridge and greatly contributes to Boston's "Gotham" feel.

Based on your comment, you seem to prescribe to the theory that "1 is enough". As in, we already have 1 Art Deco tower, so who needs another? With that way of thinking, maybe NYC should tear down the Chrysler building after the ESB made it "redundant". Chicago can tear down the John Hancock Building since the Willis is taller, and who needs 2 dominant 1970's black clad towers with huge white antenna anyway?

I think maybe the old Hancock should go. We already have a new one and that would be a perfect place to build a couple of single family housing units.

Detroit could really use a person like you! They have this garbage building called the Book Tower, that needs to meet Mr. Wrecking Ball yesterday!!! Please feel free to move there, and then you can stand on your soapbox and demand the removal of half the skyline because it's outdated and hey, if you have seen 1 historical tower, you have seen them all.
 

davem

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From the Wall Street Journal:
Eighty years old, the Empire State Building is a city and national landmark. In New York's class-conscious office market, where buildings are graded from A to C, it was subjected to minimum maintenance and disfiguring "modernizations" by a series of owners, to the point where agents stopped bringing clients to its outmoded offices.
...
By 2006 the Empire State Building was part of a money-losing package of buildings of steadily declining value and appeal that simply could not compete with the sleek new towers.
...
Exterior brickwork was cleaned. Circulation and office space were reconfigured. Elevators and mechanical systems were replaced. Dropped panels and fluorescent fixtures that had been punched into decorative ceilings were removed, and damaged details were restored or reproduced.
Sound familiar? Now, not only is the ESB pulling in serious cash, but it is THE model for retrofitting existing structures to be more efficient, and is one of (if not the) tallest LEED gold buildings in the world.


Now granted, we're talking about a public building here, not a private one. But the similarities are striking. Both have undergone periodic renovations that have done far more harm than good and not really "fixed" anything. Unhappy tenants, an outdated, failing physical plant, and management that simply maintains the status-quo are the issues. In the Empire State buildings case, a fresh face choose to double down and rehab it.

Do the same thing here and sell it to a private developer and lease back the courtrooms. The national register allows for additions providing they are distinct from the original structure, so put a modern, sizable addition off the side along Somerset street over the entrance to the Center Plaza garage for the Jury Pool and other non-courtroom functions. Restore the courtrooms and lobby, upgrade the physical plant, and renovate all the rest of the space into class A office space.
 

Equilibria

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Do the same thing here and sell it to a private developer and lease back the courtrooms. The national register allows for additions providing they are distinct from the original structure, so put a modern, sizable addition off the side along Somerset street over the entrance to the Center Plaza garage for the Jury Pool and other non-courtroom functions. Restore the courtrooms and lobby, upgrade the physical plant, and renovate all the rest of the space into class A office space.
That would be lovely, but who will pay for it? I know you're a preservation nut, but not every developer is going to be willing to buy this building and dump money into repairing it when much easier profit can be made in the Back Bay or Seaport. Even if one were particularly attached to this site, they could just wait for Court to give up and sell the site, then tear the building down and build a new one that will be more cost effective (or at least more predictable).

The problem with "common sense" developments in a booming city is that they not only have to make sense, they have to make more sense than the other options a developer has, and I'm not sure this one will.

The ESB is not a good comparison, not because it's a privately-held building but because it's world-famous. No one was ever going to tear it down - a renovation was inevitable given the value of office space in Midtown. Tenants will flock to a scrubbed, LEED-certified Empire State Building at any price.
 

davem

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That would be lovely, but who will pay for it? I know you're a preservation nut, but not every developer is going to be willing to buy this building and dump money into repairing it when much easier profit can be made in the Back Bay or Seaport. Even if one were particularly attached to this site, they could just wait for Court to give up and sell the site, then tear the building down and build a new one that will be more cost effective (or at least more predictable).

The problem with "common sense" developments in a booming city is that they not only have to make sense, they have to make more sense than the other options a developer has, and I'm not sure this one will.

The ESB is not a good comparison, not because it's a privately-held building but because it's world-famous. No one was ever going to tear it down - a renovation was inevitable given the value of office space in Midtown. Tenants will flock to a scrubbed, LEED-certified Empire State Building at any price.
Historic Preservation tax credits. A savvy developer can recoup up to 40% of hard costs related to the renovation (20% state, 20% federal). The state can't apply themselves, which is why is has to be a private developer.

They are too small to handle it themselves, but HBI is a great example of a local developer that capitalizes on this strategy. The mill buildings in Lowell, etc that are being renovated make the numbers work this way too. They don't make financial sense to rehab without the credits, but with they make boatloads of cash.



I'm a preservation nut in the way that I can't stand seeing potentially useful, existing resources going to waste. I hate the "preserve this at all costs!" people, and with the exception of truly historic places I think house museums and the like are an utter waste. What I find fascinating is the process of taking an existing building and finding a way to make it work in today's world: technologically, functionally, and financially. The easy way out is to tear everything down and start fresh, but that's also the easy way to waste resources and fill landfills, to say nothing of the loss inherent character and history of an existing building.
 
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BosDevelop

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The sad reason I too feel the building is best torn down is simply because I do not trust the Commonwealth to rehab it properly. As mentioned earlier in the thread, somewhere around a hundred million dollars has been poured into this building over the last few decades. That hasn't worked. Why do people trust the Commonwealth to get it right "this time"?
 

statler

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To be fair, they also did the Adams, which by all accounts was an A+ job.

I think this is more a matter of political will rather than capability.

In other words are taxpayers going to be willing to foot the bill to do a proper restoration for a building that doesn't really capture the hearts and minds?
 

vanshnookenraggen

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It is going to depend on how bad the building is structurally. If it could be saved I can see this being a great condo conversion. If not... well it isn't the most amazing piece of Art Deco in Boston anyway.
 

Semass

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From the Wall Street Journal:


Sound familiar? Now, not only is the ESB pulling in serious cash, but it is THE model for retrofitting existing structures to be more efficient, and is one of (if not the) tallest LEED gold buildings in the world.


Now granted, we're talking about a public building here, not a private one. But the similarities are striking. Both have undergone periodic renovations that have done far more harm than good and not really "fixed" anything. Unhappy tenants, an outdated, failing physical plant, and management that simply maintains the status-quo are the issues. In the Empire State buildings case, a fresh face choose to double down and rehab it.

Do the same thing here and sell it to a private developer and lease back the courtrooms. The national register allows for additions providing they are distinct from the original structure, so put a modern, sizable addition off the side along Somerset street over the entrance to the Center Plaza garage for the Jury Pool and other non-courtroom functions. Restore the courtrooms and lobby, upgrade the physical plant, and renovate all the rest of the space into class A office space.
FYI, the Saltonstall Building next door was rehabbed using this exact model. It is a 70's uglyrama but the state split the building in 2 - top 12 floors for private tenants, bottom 12 for state. Quite a nice job, actually. Managed by Equity Office now. If you want to do it, this works.
 

sm89

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I bet the only reason the windows leak is because they decided to permanently install window air conditioners.
 

Padre Mike

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If there is the will and the $$ I have no doubt this building can be saved, rehabbed, reused, etc, with finishes left intact or adapted. I've always disliked this building because it was the first to over-take the golden State House dome on the "Hill". I've also loved it because it was one of the first, visible signs from several vantage points of Boston's slow awakening from it's semi-depressed state through the thirties. It can and should be preserved...a/c units removed and the whole thing spiffed up!
 

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