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State to begin dismantling Longfellow Bridge towers this week

March 5, 2014 02:58 PM

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The state will begin dismantling the iconic "salt and pepper" towers of the Longfellow Bridge later this week for cleaning and repair. File photo by Brock Parker.

The iconic towers on the Longfellow Bridge sometimes referred to as the “salt and pepper” shakers are about to be taken apart and cleaned.

The state Department of Transportation said Wednesday that it will begin dismantling the first of the four towers on the Longfellow Bridge later this week to clean and repair them as part of the $255.5 million Longfellow Bridge Rehabilitation project.

Contractor White-Skanska-Consigli JV will move a barge-mounted crane into place on the Charles River Thursday, and the crane will be used to remove the granite stones of the towers. The stones will then be taken to a staging area for cleaning storage and repairs.

The towers were completed more than 100 years ago and the two on the upstream-side of the bridge will be dismantled first, according to the state. The two towers on the downstream side of the bridge will be dismantled and restored when that side of the bridge is rehabilitated during the final phase of construction, which is scheduled to begin in the fall of 2015.

Before each of the towers are rebuilt, seismic reinforce construction will be completed in the tower piers, according to the state.

--brock.globe@gmail.com

Everett State Sen. DiDomenico going Irish for a day

March 3, 2014 02:36 PM


Everyone's Irish on St. Patrick's Day in Boston. Now an Italian-American state senator from Everett is going green, too.

State Sen. Sal N. DiDomenico plans to add an "O" to his name on Friday, March 7, when he'll hold his first-ever St. Patrick's Day party, 6:30 p.m. at the Knights of Columbus in Charlestown.

"I'll be O'DiDomenico that day," quipped the two-term Democrat. "We got creative with the name."

The event, which is sold out, will feature music by Devri, a popular Irish band, as well as an Irish step dancing troupe, and stand-up by comedian Jimmy Tingle.

"It's really going to be a fun, festive atmosphere," DiDomenico said.

Political jokes and jabs are planned, along with Corned Beef & Cabbage.
There will be Democrats and Republicans, too.

Charles Baker, a Republican candidate for governor, is expected at the event, DiDomenico said.

Democratic candidates for governor -- State Treasurer Steven Grossman, Attorney General Martha Coakley, and Juliet Kayyem, a former state and federal homeland security official, are also expected, DiDomenico added.

Gov. Deval Patrick can't attend, "but he will be sending a video message," DiDomenico said.

Democratic Senators Elizabeth Warren and Edward J. Markey plan to attend, DiDomenico said.

And so will Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh, a son of Irish immigrants who will be celebrating St. Patrick's Day as Boston's first new mayor in 20 years.

"Marty is a friend," DiDomenico said of Walsh, who took office in January after 16 years on Beacon Hill as a state representative from Dorchester.

The pols will likely trade barbs and jabs over dinner, but all in good fun, and in the name of charity.

The senator recently established The DiDomenico Foundation, a nonprofit that will raise money to fund scholarships for high school students from the senator's district, which includes all of Chelsea and Everett, along with several precincts in Boston and Cambridge.

Money will also be used to buy toys for low-income families at the holidays.
"It's a great opportunity to celebrate St. Patrick's Day and do some great things for people," DiDomenico said.

Kathy McCabe can be reached at katherine.mccabe@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeKMcCabe

Alumni asking public to pick the best prank in MIT history

February 28, 2014 01:36 PM

Pranksters at MIT have been trying to outdo each other for years with hacks ranging from perching a police car atop the Great Dome to dropping pianos off buildings or converting a high-rise into a giant game of Tetris.

But what’s the best prank in the school’s history?

Beginning Monday, the MIT Alumni Association is going to launch Hack Madness: The MIT Tournament of Hacks asking the public to pick the greatest prank in the history of the university. The winner will be announced on Friday, March 14.

The online competition pits hack against hack using a bracket-style model resembling the March Madness basketball tournaments with rounds of 32, a sweet sixteen, and elite eight and a final four before the championship.

The public will be invited to fill out brackets for the competition and pick which pranks they think should advance to the next round by voting on the Alumni Association’s blog, Slice of MIT or on its social media channels, including Facebook, Google+, Instagram and Twitter.

The Alumni Association researched the history of pranks to pick the 32 that would be in the competition, but Jay London, a multimedia writer for the association, said he didn’t want to sway the voting by naming his personal favorite.

He said he expects interest will be high in the competition.

“It’s something that MIT alumni love, because a lot of them were involved in it,” London said.

The bracket and a full list and description of which pranks are in the running can be found online here.

Voting will start at 7 a.m. on Monday, March 3.

--brock.parker@globe.com

Cambridge answering calls for public toilet in Harvard Square

February 27, 2014 09:49 AM

Visitors to Harvard Square who have a difficult time finding a public restroom could soon get some relief.

Cambridge officials are preparing a set of recommendations that if approved could lead to the construction of a public bathroom on General MacArthur Square, which sits along Massachusetts Avenue between Harvard Yard and the Old Burying Ground in Harvard Square.

The bathroom would be similar to a Portland Loo and cost about $175,000 to purchase and install, said Suzy Feinberg, a spokeswoman for the Cambridge Public Health Department and member of a public toilet working group established by the city. The work would start in the fall and could be completed by the end of the year.

Local churches, homelessness groups and businesses around Harvard Square have been calling for a public restroom on the Cambridge Common for two years and formed Advocates for a Common Toilet to lobby city officials.

The effort gained momentum in 2012 when Christ Church Cambridge ended and open-door policy allowing members of the public to use its bathroom because the church was having problems with people dealing drugs or overdosing in the bathroom. When the bathroom closed, businesses almost immediately began complaining about people urinating and defecating in the alleyways and doorways in Harvard Square.

Feinberg said the city’s working group has been trying to find an accessible, safe place to put a public restroom near the Cambridge Common that would also have access to water and sewer lines.

She said the city will hold a public meeting on the proposed location for the bathroom, which she said the city is approaching as a pilot project to test how much use the bathroom gets and whether any problems arise.

While working to find a home for the public restroom, the city also conducted a survey asking residents, businesses, universities and tourists whether the city needs more public restrooms. Results of the study, released this month, found that about two-thirds of respondents had difficulty accessing public toilets in the city.

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Responses to a city survey question said the area in greatest need of a public restroom in Cambridge is Harvard Square. Graphic courtesy the City of Cambridge.

About 79 percent of the survey respondents said Harvard Square is where they have experienced the greatest need for public toilets, while others highlighted along the Charles River in Cambridge, local parks and in Central Square.

Feinberg said more than 800 people participated in the survey and submitted hundreds of comments ranging from people who said the city needs more signs indicating the location of public restrooms to one man who complained there are not enough public toilets on his jogging route.

“There were a lot of very funny comments—all very polite, very supportive,” she said.

She said the survey has helped identify places in the city where there would be a demand for public restrooms to be built in the future.

Feinberg said the public toilet in Harvard Square is one of a host of recommendations that the working group is finalizing to submit to the city manager this spring regarding public toilets.

--Brock.parker@globe.com

Somerville Skillshare offers free classes by local artists this Sunday

February 26, 2014 03:18 PM

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Have you ever wanted to try your hand at parkour, juggling, imaginary map-making, investing, or bee keeping? Get ready to try all that and more at no cost this Sunday afternoon at the Center for Arts at the Armory.

Somerville Skillshare invites the community to partake in a day of free classes led by area artists and entrepreneurs for their inaugural “skill sharing” event. The organization, run by a team of volunteers, seeks to connect talented residents across the city by providing a platform for free collaboration and education.

John Massie, the founder and director of Somerville Skillshare, said this is the first event of its kind in Somerville. He said that Somerville is one of the most talented artist communities in the country, and that he is excited to offer residents the opportunity to learn and connect in a way that encourages individuals to branch out and join the artist conversation.

“If you can make [education] free and open it up to as many people as possible, it’s an exciting thing," Massie said. "By definition, you’re hopefully attracting a very wide group and helping contribute to building community.”

Massie said that he and some of the other volunteers for Somerville Skillshare got the idea from similar events hosted in other cities, such as skillshares in Brooklyn and Boston. While these events have been going on for a few years, Massie said it has been exciting to see the overwhelming response to Somerville inaugurating its own event. More than 800 people have already registered for this free event, proving the city’s interest and demand for an educational platform.

“[You are learning] in a space that’s very informal, a fun setting, free, and you’re doing it with friends and other people in the same boat,” Massie said. “It’s making it as easy and accessible as possible to try new stuff.”

Class spaces will be set up throughout the Armory, Massie said, with about seven classes running simultaneously for 50-minute blocks. A small break will occur between each block, giving attendees time to continue their conversations and find their way to another class of interest. Massie said there will also be space available in the Armory’s café—and later in the performance hall—for individuals to continue discussions they may have started in the classes.

“In the spirit of trying to build and support community around education, we are giving people the space and time regimented during the day to help keep those conversations going,” Massie said.

MaMassie said that he hopes many people will take advantage of this opportunity, whether it is only for one class or for the entire afternoon. He said it’s the perfect invitation to try something new with talented teachers who can answer questions and share their own experiences.

“It is a chance to get a dose or small glimpse into the interesting and diverse things that Somerville residents are doing,” Massie said. “[We want people to walk] away feeling inspired by a class they took or a conversation they had, and to maybe jumpstart a brand new hobby.”

The first Somerville Skillshare will take place on Sunday, March 2, from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. The event is free and open to the public. For more information on classes that will be offered, the organization, or to RSVP, visit the event’s website.

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Brooklyn Boulders Somerville hosting tryouts for youth climbing team

February 25, 2014 10:00 AM

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Brooklyn Boulders Somerville will be holding tryouts for the SomerVillains, their inaugural youth climbing team, this Saturday. The rock-climbing team invites climbers ages 8 to 18 of all levels to come show what they’ve got on the rocks.

Dan Braun, the instruction manager at BKBS, said this will be Somerville’s first youth climbing team. The Brooklyn location has boasted a youth team for four years, and some of their climbers are already competing at the national tournament in Colorado, Braun said. He is excited to bring that opportunity to Somerville.

“Anyone can climb,” Braun said. “There is no obligation if you come and try out, plus you might find a passion you never had . . . It is great to start in your youth, because you have everything in front of you, and you can become a strong climber very quickly.”

Braun said there will be tryouts for two teams: a competitive team and a non-competitive team. The tryouts will compose of multiple stations where youth will traverse, climb, play games, and complete other activities that will help the coaches gauge climbing ability and how well youth work with instruction.

“We will be evaluating the kids on how focused they are, how well they take direction, and how strong of a climber they are. You can be on the competitive team and be a weak climber. If you’re very determined and take direction well, there’s no reason you can’t be on the team,” Braun said.

The season begins the week following tryouts and will last about 12 weeks. The second season will start in the fall, when tryouts will be held again, giving youth the opportunity to change teams.

Throughout the season, parents and climbers will carpool to weekend competitions that are held across New England. They will be participating in the USA Climbing's Sport Climbing Series this spring and the American Bouldering Series in the fall.

Braun said that it is always interesting for new gyms to start teams. He said typically a lot of younger kids will try out, but it does not take long for them to develop and improve their climbing abilities.

“Generally there will be a lot of younger kids ages 8 to 12, but they stick with it through the years. Then, you see 14- and 15-year-olds who have become very strong climbers and competitors,” Braun said.

Regardless of experience level, Braun said parents should consider bringing their children to the tryouts. He said rock climbing is something that can be done all over the world and the teams give kids a good foundation for a future in the sport.

“Rock climbing is great physical skill to have, but it’s also very mentally challenging: It’s a physical puzzle,” Braun said. “It’s a great combination of camaraderie and competition . . . They’ll develop as strong climbers, and the climbing community is a great one to be part of.”

Tryouts for the SomerVillains youth climbing teams will take place on Saturday, March 1 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tryouts and gear rental are free. The price to participate on the noncompetitive team is $400 for the season, and the price to participate on the competitive team is $800 for the season. For more information or to register, visit their website.

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Jasper White's Summer Shack revamps old Cambridge digs, but it's still a shack

February 21, 2014 12:23 PM

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Jasper White, a founder and managing partner of Summer Shack, stands behind the new bar in the restaurant's original location in Cambridge, which just re-opened after renovations. Photo courtesy Summer Shack.

It’s still a shack, but celebrity chef Jasper White says his flagship Summer Shack restaurant in Cambridge is a bit more refined after its first major renovation in 14 years.

The restaurant that seats more than 300 and is known for its lobster, oysters and immense menu reopened last week after closing for two weeks to renovate the space.

Since the Summer Shack opened at 149 Alewife Brook Parkway in May of 2000, the restaurant has opened additional locations in Boston, Dedham and at Mohegan Sun, but White said the flagship restaurant has only undergone minor changes over the years.

To keep up with changes in the neighborhood around the Alewife T stop, White said Summer Shack has now tripled the size of its oyster bar, put in new floors and furniture, along with new lighting, ceiling fans and a new color scheme.

“Originally, our concept was kind of a fisherman bought a Chinese restaurant, that’s kind of what it looked like,” said White. “But over time things have changed and the neighborhood has changed and we have a lot more business guests, so we kind of needed to tone down the shack side of it. It’s still a shack, but it has a different feel to it.”

summershack2.jpgThe restaurant serves more than 3,000 oysters per week and its new 30-seat, zinc-topped oyster bar also includes space for up to three guests using wheelchairs. The bar also has a new draft beer system with 20 beers on tap.

White said there are more renovations to come. By the beginning of April, the restaurant is going to convert a back bar into a function room able to accommodate more than 120 guests.

The back bar had originally been used as smoking space before Cambridge banned smoking in restaurants, and has since been used as a sports bar, said White.

Now, as more businesses have opened around the T station, White said his restaurant gets more and more requests corporate meetings space and clam bakes.

White said the renovations are also a way of thanking regular guests who keep coming back to the restaurant.

“I think you owe that to your customers—to keep it fresh over time," he said. "Otherwise, they will go other places.”

--brock.parker@globe.com

Legoland seeks child ambassadors for Discovery Center

February 20, 2014 12:52 PM


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Think your child has what it takes to become one of Boston’s inaugural Lego ambassadors?

From now until March 14, LEGOLAND Discovery Center Boston will be accepting applications from children ages 5 to 12 to participate on a team to help LEGOLAND become the best attraction of its kind.

Kelly Smith, Marketing Manager at LEGOLAND Discovery Center Boston, said this is another step that will bring the discovery center closer to its opening in May. The group selected Ian Coffey as the new master model builder on January 26, and now Coffey will select his panel of child advisors to give feedback on the new center.

“We had our Brick Factor competition to find the master model builder, but every one needs a great team of support,” Smith said. “So we’ve developed the junior competition, which will allow 12 kids to be part of a team to help Ian with events and activities leading up to grand opening, as well as after the fact.”

Ian Coffey, the master model builder for Boston’s LEGOLAND Discovery Center, said he is excited to select the team of children that will comprise the junior construction panel and that he will be looking for a variety of qualities in the applications.

“It’s my first real responsibility, which I’m really excited for,” Coffey said. “The things I’m looking for is how creative the children can be, how enthusiastic they are, and how their imagination comes about . . . [I’m looking for] who really had all those things coming together when they built with the Lego bricks.”

As part of the application, children must include a video or photo and written response explaining what makes them the biggest Lego fan and why they should be part of the panel. They should also show something they built with Lego bricks. Coffey said he is excited to see the responses and what the kids come up with by themselves.

“In an essay, I want to see the kid. I love the raw child, even a handwritten note,” Coffey said. “When you’re reading it and you can really see that they’re engaged in what they’re writing, that’s the kind of stuff that’s going to stick out to me.”

Smith said that while a major part of being ambassador is testing the rides and being excited about the attraction, another part is providing feedback to the center. She said LEGOLAND is an attraction for children, and as such their opinions help make the center the best it can be. She said that in the process, it also provides children a great opportunity to interact with adults and grow through working in a team atmosphere.

“It’s a team of 12, so they will need to work together and develop skills of teamwork. But also, interpersonal skills, speaking skills and confidence will be gained throughout the year . . . It’s a pretty strong role for a child,” Smith said. “[We’re looking for] children who feel comfortable working with a variety of different people.”

Smith said it will be interesting to see the number of children who apply. She said it’s great to be able to offer those selected the chance to experience the discovery center before it officially opens in May.

“The Discovery Center is a really exciting attraction coming to the Boston area,” Smith said. “It’s kind of a unique opportunity for a child to be able to experience something so new and great and incorporate it with a toy that’s so educational and constructive. It’s such a great toy that so many children love.”

Coffey hopes that parents will encourage and help their Lego-loving children to apply. He said that for him, it was all about taking steps towards what he loves, and he hopes a lot of children will do the same.

“I want kids to come out of this after day one saying this is my dream, I can reach it. I can do this,” Coffey said. “The creativity, design, imagination, you can build those and shape them, but I really want children to understand that if they want to become something—even become a junior panelist—to just keep going for it.”

LEGOLAND Discovery Center Boston will be accepting applications for its junior construction panel from now until March 14. The 12 winners will be announced on their Facebook page on March 17. For contest rules and to apply, visit the LEGOLAND’s website.

Crime rate continues to fall in Cambridge

February 20, 2014 11:28 AM

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Crime statistics in Cambridge over the last 50 years. Graphic courtesy Cambridge Police.

Serious crime in Cambridge dropped by 8 percent last year, sinking the city’s crime rate below what had already been called a 50-year low in 2012.

Violent crimes including murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assaults were down by 21 percent from 414 total incidents in 2012 to 327 in 2013, according to a review of serious crime posted on the Cambridge Police Department’s website this week.

While the number of murders was up from one in 2012 to three last year, the number of rapes fell from 23 to 17 and aggravated assaults fell from 262 to 189 over the same period, according to the report compiled by the police department’s crime analysis unit.

The number of robberies fell from 128 in 2012 to 118 in 2013, but the city did see a spike in commercial robberies from 16 in 2012 to 30 last year. Police said arrests were made in 19 of the 30 commercial robberies.

Combining the violent crimes with property crimes in the city, there were a total of 3,197 incidents in 2013, compared to 3,478 in 2012. The total is down by 70 percent from the city’s peak year of crime in 1974 when 10,715 incidents were reported, according to the crime review.

The 2013 total of serious crimes was the lowest in more than 50 years, according to the review, which states that a more detailed annual crime report will be released this spring.

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Violent crime was down by 21 percent last year from 2012 totals. Graphic courtesy Cambridge Police.

--brock.parker@globe.com

Snow boarding coming to Central Square Wednesday

February 18, 2014 10:45 AM

Never mind Sochi, the People’s Republic of Cambridge is getting its own winter games.

House of Vans and Snowboy Productions are creating a pop-up snow board park in front of the Middle East in Central Square Wednesday night as part of a festival timed to coincide with school vacation week.

The event, called the “Snochi Festival” is running Tuesday through Thursday will shut down a portion of Brookline Avenue next to the Middle East today through 3 p.m. Thursday. The festival has a dozen sponsors, including the Middle East, House of Vans, the City of Cambridge and the Central Square Business Association.

At the pop-up snow boarding park Wednesday night, snow boarders from around New England, including House of Vans team rider Nick “Pooch” Poohachoff, will be giving demonstrations from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.

The festival will also feature musical performances and free activities from teens from 12 to 17 years old at the Middle East. A full schedule of the events can be found here.

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