A Pioneering Massachusetts School Is Reimagined as Affordable Housing

Founded in 1947 by CardinalRichard Cushing, Archbishop of Boston, this complex housed the Northeast’s first largescale school for children with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Founded in 1947, this complex housed the Northeast’s first largescale school for children with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Located about 30 minutes from Boston in wooded Hanover, Mass., the 175-acre Cardinal Cushing Centers’ simple Georgian and Colonial Revival structures belie their innovative past. Founded in 1947 by Cardinal Richard Cushing, Archbishop of Boston, this complex housed the Northeast’s first large-scale school for children with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Today, while much of the campus still operates as a specialized school, the Archdiocese of Boston has allocated certain portions for redevelopment, offering a broad range of non-denominational support services for the disabled and the Hanover community at large.

A recent $8.5 million renovation and adaptive reuse led by Chelsea, Mass.-based The Architectural Team (TAT) Inc. with the creative stewardship of the Planning Office of Urban Affairs (POUA), a nonprofit housing developer affiliated with the Archdiocese of Boston, reimagines this National Historic District’s former dormitory building as Bethany Apartments, a 37-unit affordable housing community for area residents.

The historic dormitory building was constructed in 1957 with a grant from U.S. Ambassador Joseph Kennedy, an enthusiastic patron of this pioneering school. Originally named for its eminent donor, the 3-story, red-brick structure once housed 200 students. As the Cardinal Cushing Centers campus evolved to include affordable senior housing and other supportive services, the 58,375-square-foot former Kennedy Building transitioned into administrative use and eventually fell into disrepair. Working through the Archdiocese and leasing the structure to POUA, which is a mission-driven leader in social justice and affordable housing for families, offered Cardinal Cushing Centers an opportunity to give the building new life as much-needed affordable housing for the Hanover community. Just as important, locating Bethany Apartments on the campus grounds gives students a chance to interact with the development’s residents, helping the Cardinal Cushing Centers organization further its mission of integrating children with disabilities into the surrounding community.

Site Work

POUA engaged TAT, a longstanding collaborator, to lead the building’s renovation and retrofit into an affordable apartment community. At the project’s outset, extensive site work proved to be one of the project team’s most significant challenges. Located next to protected wetlands, the large H-shaped structure sits on a significant slope and much of the first floor is below grade. Keeping the existing foundations secure was a major concern, especially as the high water table created difficulties for below-slab trenching needed to install new sanitary and stormwater drainage piping. In fact, at its lowest point where plumbing exits the building, the sanitary trench encroached on the water table.

Working with geotechnical and structural engineers, TAT devised an underpinning for existing footings and foundations, as well as shored up the earth and foundations in particularly vulnerable areas. To solve the piping issue, the project team decided to trench below one of the building footings, run pipes through the space and then pour additional concrete below the trench to maintain structural integrity.

Stormwater drainage presented another challenge. The site’s clay-heavy soil does not allow for much surface water percolation, and an existing bioretention area behind the building could not absorb the full amount of stormwater runoff. With help from the civil engineers, TAT designed and installed a new secondary drainage system in the bioretention treatment area that helps accommodate runoff and other surface water.

Accessible and Approachable

TAT embraced the vibrant colors of the community room's large stained-glass windows and reflected them in the space's finishes and furnishings.
TAT embraced the vibrant colors of the community room’s large stained-glass windows and reflected them in the space’s finishes and furnishings.

Additional site work focused on improving accessibility and wayfinding throughout the property. Concrete walkways form new paths from the street and around the building, as well as to a new parking lot in the rear, while pavers highlight building entrances. Other less prominent but equally important additions, such as new lamp poles and exterior building-mounted lighting, also aid safety and wayfinding to improve the resident experience and campus safety. Ornate, lantern-like fixtures at the expanded front entrance are designed to match those seen in historic photographs of the building, contributing to the sense of historic character.

When it came to repairing and retrofitting the building itself, a few significant projects were necessary. To create an additional handicap-accessible entrance, for example, the project team carefully demolished a new opening in the rear façade to make space for establishing an entirely new entry sequence. Combined with the new parking lot, the improved accessible access means the primary entrance is now at the building’s rear. This led to an unexpected design benefit: Cardinal Cushing Centers had retained the right to use a portion of the building’s first floor as a health center for its students, and the project work afforded a good opportunity to design a separate, adjacent entry for this facility that can be used once the allocated space—currently just shelled out—is retrofitted in the future.

Similarly, during their life safety review of building plans, the local fire department requested that the existing elevator be replaced with an elevator system to accommodate 84-inch-long ambulance stretchers. With this in mind, the entire structure needed to be demolished and replaced with a new masonry-lined shaft for the larger-capacity car. The new elevator system that could serve the larger car is a cost-effective low-rise system without a machine room, saving floor space and using an energy-efficient gearless traction motor requiring no hydraulics or oil.

Another crucial building systems upgrade came with the installation of a new mechanical plant. Updated elements include a cooling tower and an energy recovery ventilator (ERV) with each apartment unit using the hybrid heat pumps. The oversized dimensions of the original mechanical room eased the installation process, offering plenty of space for the large ERV unit.

Architectural Rejuvenation

Exterior building elements needed replacement, too. Work on the roof was more substantial than first anticipated with the original slate in poor condition because of decades of exposure to moisture infiltration and related water damage. Although a restoration initially seemed possible, a complete replacement was ultimately necessary, leading to critical decisions about material choice and color for the historic structure.

The building’s classic, Colonial Revival style presents a distinctive profile where the roof has significant visual impact and a major role in the renovation’s ultimate curb appeal. With this in mind, the TAT design team chose a blue-green slate that offers an attractive and historically sensitive contrast with the red brick construction. The new roof was installed in combination with copper gutters and downspouts, offering a new highlight for the complex. Behind the historic envelope, spray foam insulation was applied to the roof structure and dormers through the attic space. Spray foam was chosen because it creates a better seal for the building envelope and reduces moisture and air infiltration for structural longevity.

In addition to the roof, all the existing wood window frames had to be replaced. For cost and performance considerations, retrofit aluminum replicas of the original window profiles were considered as a possible, value-oriented solution. Yet, in this case, working with a custom fabricator, provided a highly cost-effective opportunity to use wood replacement windows. As a result, new double-hung wood window frames closely replicate the originals in look and feel. In concert with the building’s repointed brickwork, the radiant white color of the new window frames offers a fresh, crisp aesthetic for the Bethany Apartments façades.

Inside, the project team found significant mold and moisture encroachment on first-floor spaces because of the site’s high water table, and leaks from the roof had damaged much of the fourth floor. As a result, the most extensive repair work took place on these two floors; many spaces were stripped down to the exterior masonry walls and then entirely rebuilt. The second and third floors, infrequently used after the building’s shift to administrative duty, were in need of significantly less repair.


About the Author

Edward R. De Blieck and Melanie Conant
Edward R. De Blieck, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP, is a project manager at Chelsea, Mass.-based The Architectural Team Inc. (TAT). Melanie Conant, IIDA, NCDIQ, is a director of Interior Design at TAT.

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