Gearing-up time at Kennedy Institute: ‘Iconic’ design unveiled; Mt. Vernon St. or EMK Blvd.?

How does Edward M. Kennedy Boulevard sound as the new name of Columbia Point’s Mt. Vernon Street?

Peter Meade, the president and CEO of the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate, acknowledged that he had been approached by some Dorchester residents about the possible renaming of the street, which starts by Columbia Rd., runs past the former Bayside Expo site, through the Harbor Point community, and ends at the UMass-Boston campus. “We’ll see where that idea goes,” Meade said. “You have to make sure the people who live here and work on that street think it’s a good idea.”

Currently, Columbia Point isn’t the only neighborhood with a Mt. Vernon St. The same name adorns street signs in Beacon Hill and West Roxbury.

“I personally think it’s a great idea, but I would defer to the community,” said state Rep. Marty Walsh, who represents Columbia Point and Savin Hill.

Meade spoke with the Reporter this week about the proposed design for the institute, which is similar to I.M. Pei’s design of the J.F.K. Presidential Library and Museum, which Meade said was intentional.
“It’s clearly an iconic building and you didn’t want to try to overwhelm or compete with the presidential library,” Meade said.

The building is being designed by architect Rafael Vinoly, who has also worked on the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Abu Dhabi campus for New York University, and the University of Arizona Science Center.

Construction of the two-story building, slated to be placed between the UMass-Boston campus and the JFK Library, is expected to start this fall with an opening scheduled for 2013.

The institute will house an exhibition hall, a digital library, five classrooms, and what Meade stressed was a “representation, not a replica” of the U.S. Senate chamber for debates and mock Senate sessions. The Senate chamber, which will carry interactive archives detailing the history of past and present senators, will anchor the building.

“This is a teaching instrument about the U.S. Senate and the U.S. government,” Meade said.
Target groups for institute include middle and high schoolers, college students and faculty, particularly from UMass, as well as new senators and other government officials.

Meade also acknowledged that had been some discussion of building a monorail between the JFK/UMass MBTA station and the library. “I would love that,” he said. But no one has drawn up a plan or come up with cost estimates, he said, and it is an idea that has only been speculated about.
Born in Dorchester’s St. Margaret’s Hospital, Kennedy was elected in 1962 to fill his brother’s U.S. Senate seat after John F. Kennedy won the presidency. He held the seat until his death last year, after a lengthy battle with cancer.

The head of the nonprofit and non-partisan institute, Meade, a Dorchester native, has deep ties to his old neighborhood. He has held a variety of jobs, including stints in Mayor Kevin White’s administration, at WBZ radio, and as an executive at Blue Cross Blue Shield.

In a statement, UMass-Boston Chancellor Keith Motley said the building was expected to be a “jewel” and a “tribute” to Kennedy. “We look forward to working with the institute to offer greater opportunities for research and civic engagement,” he said. “Equally important, this will be an environment where young people can learn about and connect with the history of this country and the Senate in a unique, interdisciplinary way.”

Renderings of the building can also be viewed on the institute’s website, located at


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