City: Hold on a little bit longer for ‘L Street’ Community Center to open

The Curley Community Center, shown in a pre-renovation photo. The facility remains closed this week, despite a lengthy project to modernize the 1930s era building. City of Boston image

Jan. 1 is typically a busy day at the city’s only public waterfront amenity, as scores of “Brownies” brave what are normally frigid temps to take a New Year’s plunge into Dorchester Bay. But this year’s traditional swim won’t have the benefit of using the popular Boston Centers for Youth & Families (BCYF) Curley Community Center in South Boston to warm up or get changed. It remains closed this week, with one city spokesperson saying the facility won’t be ready for public use until the beginning of February — at the earliest.

The center – often called simply “L Street”— has been the subject of a $23.3 million renovation project that has overshot its original completion date by more than a year now.

In September, the Reporter revealed that the project was beset by dueling lawsuits triggered by a dispute between the city of Boston and contractors hired to complete the job. At that time, city officials said they still intended to re-open the Columbia Road facility by the end of the fall.

But last week, when pressed by the Reporter for details, a spokesperson for Mayor Wu acknowledged that the public would have to wait even longer, even though from outside appearances, the building looks largely finished and landscaped.

In a statement, a city spokesperson said: "BCYF is committed to reopening the BCYF Curley Community Center safely, sustainably, and as soon as possible, and is expecting to get into the building by the end of this month. Staff will then need at least four weeks to prepare the building for opening, where it's now the largest building in the BCYF network. BCYF is planning to formally reopen the building and begin programming in winter of 2023."

The extensive renovations were supposed to be largely completed in Nov. 2021. Key wellness and social services, including programming for children and seniors, have been displaced during the extended closure, which started in March 2020 due to the Covid crisis. The center never re-opened, with city officials choosing to instead “fast-track” construction in the Depression-era facility. Work started inside the building in October 2020.

One reason for the long delay, according to our earlier reporting: legal wrangling between the city and its chosen contractor, Boston Building & Bridge Co. (BBB), which won a competitive bid to gut and rebuild the Curley Center. The contractor said it found hazardous materials— including asbestos— that were not part of the original contract with the city. BBB claimed that the need to remediate the hazardous materials ran up costs on the project by nearly $700,000, which the contractor said Boston refused to pay.

After the two parties failed to resolve the money and timing dispute through mediation, the city of Boston filed its own complaint against the architectural firm it hired to plan to project, the South Boston-based DesignLAB Architects, Inc. (dLAB) and its insurance agency, CAN Surety.

In the court filing, a city of Boston attorney noted that the failure to locate and plan for hazardous material disposal “directly harmed the city, as it is still unable to open a crucial community and beachfront amenity to the public for the second summer in a row. Moreover, upon information and belief, fall programming for the public at the site may now be threatened.”

In the fall, the city of Boston denied requests by the Reporter to visit the Curley site to review progress and conduct one-on-one interviews with key city officials responsible for the project. There has been scant communication to inform the public about the timing of the opening of the new Curley center, which is supposed to house a new dance studio, fitness center, senior space, locker rooms and three multi-purpose rooms for community events.


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