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More than 600 pay phones left in Boston, awaiting your change

May 9, 2014 02:04 PM

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Adam Virnelson

Pay phones may seem archaic, but hundreds of the devices are still scattered around Boston, waiting to collect spare change.

“I wouldn’t even know how much it would cost to make a phone call,” said Marilee Higgins of Watertown.

One company, Pacific Telemanagement Services, operates more than 600 pay phones in Boston. PTS has been buying up all the public phones once owned by Verizon.

PTS manages the majority of the phones, but inquiries at both the state and municipal levels were unable to uncover the total number of phones. No one seems to know exactly how many pay phones are left in Boston.

“There was one at my high school, but that was 10 years ago,” said Josh Vogel, a city employee. At the Malden Center T stop, which Vogel frequents, one phone remains.

“Maybe I’ve seen one or two people use it, to get in touch with families or to make international calls.”

“I honestly cannot think of one person who I know who does not own a cell phone,” said Carl Harkness, who was forced to use a pay phone at South Station after his mobile phone’s battery died. “Even my 78-year-old grandfather has a cell phone.”

There were once almost 2.5 million pay phones in the country, but only about 250,000 remain, and that number continues to shrink.

“We came in knowing it wasn’t a forever business, but it’s still viable,” said Tom Keane, chief executive officer of PTS.

Keane says the phones bring in substantial revenue with little to no competition. Most of PTS’s phones are concentrated in areas with heavy pedestrian traffic: hospitals, universities and airports are major hubs. Forty percent of the PTS phones in Boston are at Logan Airport.

Today PTS handles just under 40,000 pay phones in the U.S., which will see around 130 million calls this year, according to Keane.

“I think pay phones, unfortunately, are a thing of the past,” says Antonio Di Mambro, an architect, city planner and Boston resident whose award winning architectural and urban design firm has worked both in Boston and internationally. “They’re actually a nuisance to maintain.”

Di Mambro suggests that the phones be used as an emergency option for people without immediate access to a cell phone.

“We should rethink the concept of pay phones,” he says. “If something happens and you don’t have a phone, what do you do?”

To some extent, the reimagining of pay phones has already begun. Last April, PTS partnered with three other cable and telecommunication companies — RCN Business Services, DAS Communications, and LCC International Inc. — to turn existing pay phones into wireless hotspots, part of an initiative called FreeBostonWifi.

For many, though, pay phones are a fond memory. Di Mambro recalls using a public phone to talk to his girlfriend when he was in school.

“They used to be a very good service,” he said.

But for younger generations, the phones are just a curiosity, a remnant of a time when chatting required pocket change.

“I’ve never even used a pay phone,” said Jessica Spangler, a sophomore at MCPHS University in Boston. “I think they’re probably really gross.”

This article is being published under an arrangement between the Boston Globe and Emerson College.

Rain keeps turnout, but not spirits, low at Charles River Cleanup Day

May 5, 2014 03:58 PM

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Beth Treffeisen

Volunteers Kelmiah Simpson and John Massie laugh at the rain during the annual Charles River Cleanup Day. Simpson and Massie came with a group from Next Step Living, a clean tech company located in the Seaport District.

Rain pours down as volunteers brave the cold in bright purple T-shirts, picking up bottles, cigarette butts and Styrofoam cups and snipping away invasive plant species that line the Charles River.

The annual Earth Day Charles River Cleanup led by the Charles River Watershed Association, celebrated its 15th anniversary on Saturday April 15 with more than 3,000 volunteers. The volunteers came as individual and from 120 groups an effort to beautify the 80-mile river.

“Each volunteer who goes out gets an experience where they connect to the river and feel more connected,” said Alexandra Ash, events coordinator for the Charles River Watershed Association. . “They will probably think twice about littering in the future. Hopefully they weren’t littering before, but it’s definitely an educational opportunity.”

According to Kate Fichter, executive director of the Esplanade Association, one of several organizations that helped organize the event, 800 volunteers signed up to work at the Esplanade but only about 200 to 300 actually showed up.

“I think there’s people who make the decision day of and I think you are getting a lot fewer of those,” said Massachusetts Sen. William Brownsberger of Belmont, who was scheduled to speak at the Hatch Shell. “I think that you have a lot of businesses and corporate teams that have decided to be here, and they’re here.”

The T-shirts and supplies are raised by fundraising through the CRWA and are distributed to the volunteers a week before the event, which helped create an obligation, said Eivy Monroy, who used to run the event but now works for the Rhode Island Conservation Committee.

“They have the T-shirts, they have the supplies and they know that its rain or shine, so they are still out here and they are prepared and they want to be out and its Saturday — so why not?” said Monroy.

Ozzie Bateman, the horticultural operations manager at the Esplanade Association, said that whenever they have volunteers they focus on things they normally can’t do because of lack of manpower. This year the volunteers focused on clearing away invasive plant species and trash. Because of the weather they were unable to paint park benches.

“It is the exact opposite of the weather we had last year,” said Bateman.

One of the groups participating was Next Step Living, a clean tech company located in the Seaport District that had volunteers spread out along the Esplanade.

“I wore my best outfit today!” said Kelmiah Simpson, who was wearing a clear poncho while raking up trash.

Before this year, the group would normally be at a table helping people to sign up for home energy assessments, but this year they tried to take a different approach by being more active in the cleanup.

“So now that the weather is so great,” said John Massie, as the team broke out in laughter, “we decided to do something outside and do something like this.”

Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints also organized a group to come out and volunteer in the rain.

“Made it a lot more of an adventure, that’s for sure,” said Elder Reeve who is volunteering for the first time this year.

Elder Orton, who was also volunteering for the first time this year, said their group mostly worked on clearing out a yellow invasive plant species that was overrunning the side of the Esplanade.

“We got a little bit wet, from the rain and the water,” said Orton. “Everyone worked really hard. It was fun.”

Since 1965 the Charles River Watershed Association has been working on restoring the Charles River back to a healthy state.

“We’ve come a long way since 1965. The Charles is actually now considered the cleanest urban river in the United States,” by the federal Environmental Protection Agency, said Amy Rothe, director of advancement and communications for the association.

The Annual Earth Day Charles River Cleanup helps bring awareness to the importance of keeping a clean river.

Fichter said, “What I can say is that we got people who came out and they were super dedicated and did a lot of great work for the park. So weather be gone — everything has seemed to gone well.”

This article is being published under an arrangement between the Boston Globe and Emerson College.

Two friends from Venezuela finally achieve dream of running Boston Marathon

May 1, 2014 02:06 PM

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Courtesy of Jesús Enrique Perera Cabrera

Jesús Enrique Perera Cabrera, an attorney, came from Caracas, Venezuela to run the 2014 Boston Marathon.

Jesús Enrique Perera Cabrera, an attorney from Caracas, Venezuela, has been running marathons for more than seven years. On Monday he finally realized his dream of running the Boston Marathon.

Cabrera said when said he first started running, “I couldn’t run more than 300 meters.” Now, he said, gets up at 5 a.m. to run 10 miles every morning.

“I can complete a marathon,” Cabrera said. “I have already run Berlin, London, New York City and Chicago, but Boston is the place I always dreamed of running.”

Cabrera’s friend, Ramon Gonzalez, shared Cabrera’s goal of running in the Boston Marathon ever since he started running. Gonzalez works at an insurance company in Caracas, and he said started running to slim down.

“I was fat back then so I decided to lose weight. I lost 18 kilograms by running,” said Gonzalez. “Surprisingly, by the time I achieved my initial goal, I couldn’t resist the temptation to keep running.”

“My motivation is my son. I always want to teach him to be strong and persistent,” Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez said he was deeply shaken when he heard the news of the bombings at last year’s Marathon. “I cried a lot with the news,” Gonzalez said. My son always waits for me at the finish line, so imagine if I were running the marathon last year, he could be affected. I understand how the families feel about the incident. It is tragic.”

Cabrera, too, was shaken. “I was scared when I heard of the Marathon bombing,” he said. “The time that the bomb went off overlaps the time that I am supposed to finish the race. If I were there, I would definitely be at the scene.”

Both of them successfully crossed the finish line, as they promised to their families and friends they would, and both plan to continue to run marathons around the world.

“I feel good when I’m running. I can enjoy the time with myself. In the end, it is always a challenge for me so I enjoy conquering it,” Cabrera said. “It is hard to describe the feeling when you reach the finish line, but I know it’s a good feeling.”

This article is being published under an arrangement between the Boston Globe and Emerson College.

Two young immigrants score a hit with Chinese pancake stand

May 1, 2014 02:04 PM

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Valerie Sizhe Li

Yongshan Rui and Zhuming Hao opened a Chinese pancake stand in the mini food court at 42 Beach St. last week. Their pancakes are so popular they often run out of ingredients before the end of the day.

Zhuming Hao knows how use a 12-inch crepe maker, homemade green bean dough and more than 10 different ingredients to create the most ubiquitous street treat in China — and he’s brought it to Boston’s Chinatown.

In a 50-square-foot space in the mini food court on the second floor of the Avana Loft Building at 42 Beach St., Hao and his friend Yongshan Rui opened a Chinese pancakes stand on April 15 and, by the end of the day, had run out of pancakes. Within three days, they sold out more than 800 pancakes without any marketing campaigns.

Both men are from the northern part of China near Beijing: Hao is from Tianjin and Rui is from Shandong. They came to the United States five years ago to attend college.

“I saw some of my friends posted pictures of the Chinese pancakes on Weibo (the Chinese Twitter), so I just dropped my homework and rushed here,” said Sun Fei, a freshman student at Northeastern University.

Chinese pancakes, known as “Jianbingguozi” in Mandarin, are the most common street food in the northern part of China. Its basic elements have never changed: green bean dough with eggs, fried dough, sausages, scallions and sweet and sour sauce.

“I came up with the idea because it is the most authentic Chinese taste that could remind me of home. And I think most of my friends think the same,” said Hao. “It only took us one month to prepare for this project and now we are running this place.”

Even though the Chinese pancake is supposedly easy to make, it still takes either Hao or Rui five minutes to finish one pancake because they are new to the business, and right now that’s not fast enough to serve the demand.

But some Chinese customers are willing to wait up to an hour to get a taste of their homeland.

“I came all the way from Worcester for this pancake,” said Huarui Feng, an engineering student at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. “I grew up with Chinese pancakes, so I have to wait to try it no matter how long it takes me.”

The demand sometimes runs so high, as it did the day they opened, that they run out of the materials to make the pancakes and have to call it a day. To provide fresh and healthy pancakes to their customers, Hao and Rui wake up at 6 a.m. each day to prepare the ingredients themselves.

“I really like their Chinese pancakes,” said Kison Gao, a student at UMass-Boston and a frequent customer. “Also I trust their pancakes because I know it is all home-made and healthy.”

This article is being published under an arrangement between the Boston Globe and Emerson College.

Faneuil Hall Marketplace opens Boston Marathon exhibit

April 21, 2014 03:28 PM

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Tyler Salomon

A photograph and scrapbook pages from the 1936 Boston Marathon, won by Tarzan Brown. Three years later Brown won again, setting a course record and American record of 2:28:51.

Tucked away inside the North Market Place at Faneuil Hall Marketplace, a new exhibit opened this week celebrates Boston’s greatest race: the Boston Marathon.

“The Boston Marathon is a signature event for the city and Faneuil Hall Marketplace is a signature for visitors,” said Richard Johnson, curator of the Sports Museum. “It’s seems to be a perfect match.”

In conjunction with the Sports Museum, located at the TD Garden, the free exhibit, titled “Boston: America’s Greatest Marathon,” takes a look into the origins of the historic race along with paying tribute to last year’s marathon.

Johnson teamed up with Al Shameklis, President of Color Inc., which owns the Best of Boston retail store in the North Marketplace, to create the exhibit. The display is located adjacent to the Best of Boston store.

Shameklis and the Sports Museum created a similar exhibit in 2012 honoring the 100th anniversary of Fenway Park.

Visitors will find memorabilia from previous races over the past century and profiles of the Marathon’s most famous runners, including Tarzan Brown and “Mr. Marathon” Johnny Kelley.

“We wanted to focus on more of the history and be able to fill in the cracks as to why the Boston Marathon is so important to the city,” said Shamekils. “Our hope is that we can get a 12-year-old kid excited about it as well as a real scholar of the marathon history.”

As the centerpiece of the exhibit, The Sports Museum has loaned several personal artifacts of Johnny Kelley to be on display, including his personal marathon scrapbook, medals and other mementos from his more than 60 years of running the marathon.

“There is no single person that is associated with the Boston Marathon more than Johnny Kelley,” said Johnson. “We are privileged to have his materials at the museum and in this exhibit. It gives us a lot of pleasure to share his legacy.”

Ed Hurley, head of events and marketing at Faneuil Hall Marketplace, said Faneuil Hall is the perfect place to have this exhibit because people come here to learn about the history of Boston.

“People come to Faneuil Hall first because of its history,” said Hurley. “We are excited to celebrate history here and I’m excited that this exhibit is here.”

As the city prepares the return of the Boston Marathon on April 21, Johnson wants the people who visit the exhibit to remember how significant the race means to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

“It’s important to folks to remember the spirit of the race. … The marathon is one of pride and joys here,” Johnson said.

The free exhibit will be open to the public throughout the summer.

This article is being published under an arrangement between the Boston Globe and Emerson College.

Panera Cares Community Café feeds all with donation-based model

April 14, 2014 05:46 PM

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Valerie Sizhe Li

The Panera Care Café at Government Center is one of five in the country run by the non-profit Panera Foundation.

Steven Preston walks into Panera Cares Community Café at Government Center every Tuesday at 1 p.m. to volunteer for an hour in return for freshly baked bread.

His job includes busing and cleaning tables in the dining area.

This weekly routine keeps Preston, a veteran, from going hungry when he runs low on money.

“We will feed anyone who comes through our doors with dignity regardless of their means. We do that by offering a donation-based model instead of having prices,” said Kate Antonacci, director of societal impact initiatives for Panera Bread.

“We also tried to change the currency – we will accept your time as well as your money in exchange for a meal,” Antonacci said. “People can volunteer for an hour — help us out in the Café — and earn a voucher for a meal.”

The five Panera Cares Community Cafés across the country are run by the Panera Foundation, a non-profit, according to Antonacci.

The Government Center Panera Cares Community Café opened in January of 2013.

“We look for spots with a range of economic diversity,” Antonacci said. “The primary thing we look for in each location is people who can contribute while also looking for people who are in need.”

Preston said, “I think it’s a really good idea, and I love to participate in working here to contribute a bit of effort.”

This article is being published under an arrangement between the Boston Globe and Emerson College.

South Station to beam orange to promote Multiple Sclerosis Awareness

March 3, 2014 05:57 PM
The following was submitted by Regan Communications:

Clear Channel Outdoor Holdings, Inc. (NYSE: CCO), Equity Office Properties (EOP) and Philips Color Kinetics announced that a bright orange glow will greet South Station commuters March 3-9 as Boston shows its support of National Multiple Sclerosis Week.  Clear Channel Outdoor, the new advertising media provider in South Station, signed on to support the MS Week awareness campaign through the orange illumination of the station’s exterior as well as strategically placed campaign messages on its media inside the station and on digital billboards across the Greater Boston community.  

Additionally, Clear Channel’s digital billboards throughout the Boston region will maintain an eight-second hold on orange once per hour in symbolic reference to the one person diagnosed every hour with MS.
 
In conjunction with the Greater New England MS Society, The Prudential Center and the Zakim Bridge will also be illuminated orange by Phillips to raise awareness of, and support for, MS research and services that help people living with the immune-mediate disease.
 
“Someone is diagnosed with MS every hour of the day. Researchers and care providers face considerable challenges as they learn more about MS and strive to help people living with the disease achieve a better quality of life,” said Stephen Ross, president, Clear Channel Outdoor-Boston.  “We are proud to promote awareness to help generate support for research and care services.”
 
"“The National MS Society is dedicated to creating a world free of MS, but we cannot do it without help.   Orange is the national color for Multiple Sclerosis Awareness, and the illumination of South Station, the Prudential Center, Zakim Bridge and Clear Channel’s digital billboards will have an enormous impact helping bring attention to the issue,” said Michael Marks, project manager, O’Mahony & Sons Electrical, Inc., and member of the steering committee for marketing and fundraising for the New England MS Society. “Clear Channel Outdoor’s generous donation of advertising space on its inventory in the station and digital billboards across Boston will help extend our message more deeply across the community.”
 
“On behalf of our team at Equity Office and South Station, we are proud to support awareness of the MS Society and hope that someday, we will find a cure,” said Mark Smith, market managing director, Equity Office.
 
”The MBTA is honored to join in bringing awareness to National MS Awareness Week by illuminating one of our iconic transportation landmarks in the vibrant orange of the National MS Society,” said MBTA General Manager Dr. Beverly Scott.
 
Clear Channel Outdoor recently acquired the rights to manage South Station’s specialized LED lighting system, 75 impactful ad displays and two captivating digital screens. The digitally controllable LED lighting system that lights the façade of South Station has the capability of producing custom light shows from a palette of more than 16 million colors.

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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MBTA to open rebuilt Yawkey Station in March, boosting service on Framingham-Worcester rail line

February 26, 2014 12:36 PM

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(MBTA)

A rendering of the soon-to-open rebuilt Yawkey Station.

The MBTA plans to open the rebuilt Yawkey commuter rail station in Boston next month, clearing the way for the transit agency to boost service across the entire Framingham-Worcester line, officials announced Wednesday.

The station is set to open and a new schedule for the commuter rail line is set be implemented on March 10, T general manager Beverly Scott announced.

“I would like to thank everyone for their patience,” she said in a statement. “We’re very excited about launching this new era in the continuing process of improving the Worcester-Framingham commuter rail line.”

Completion of the $14.9-million Yawkey Station overhaul was delayed by about two months while the contractor worked to address accessibility-related issues, T spokesman Joe Pesaturo said.

That delay forced the T to hold back on implementing increased service across the Framingham-Worcester line. The Yawkey project includes constructing a second track allowing more trains to move through.

The new schedule will bring the total number of weekday round trips on the Framingham-Worcester line to 24, up from 22 roundtrips currently. The revised schedule also allows trains to stop at more stations while making those trips.

The line only offered 10 weekday roundtrips just before the state struck a deal in 2009 to buy a 21-mile stretch of the line’s tracks for $50 million from railroad company CSX Corp.

Since then, the T has incrementally increased train trips and stops, while improving other aspects of passenger service on the line that was once among the least reliable in the agency’s commuter rail network.

The rebuilt Yawkey Station, located steps from Fenway Park, features a pair of 700-foot-long train platforms that are fully accessible to people with disabilities, four new elevators and stairs, track realignments, an open mezzanine and a new main station lobby, or head house, at Yawkey Way.

More changes to the station are planned to be made if and when the long-delayed, yet-to-break ground massive Fenway Center mixed-use development is built around the station.

Those future improvements include building new entrance shelters on Brookline Avenue and Beacon Street and extending Yawkey Way so MASCO shuttle buses, which serve the Longwood Medical Area, can pull up to the station.

When a parking garage for the Fenway Center development is built, solar panels installed atop the garage will power Yawkey Station, which will make it the first “net-zero energy” rail station in Massachusetts, officials have said.

During the recent construction project, the station remained in use. Riders would use one side of the platform while work would take place on the opposite side, officials said.

State officials held a formal groundbreaking ceremony for the project in the fall of 2010, but the actual work did not start until June 2012, about when officials had originally hoped to finish construction.

The project’s start was delayed because the state needed to wait until the track purchase deal with CSX was complete.

The project was paid for by the state, including through the use of federal stimulus funding, officials.

The developer of Fenway Center, Meredith Management Corp., has agreed to maintain the station’s entrances and elevators after the project is complete.

E-mail Matt Rocheleau at matthew.rocheleau@globe.com.
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MBTA announces two-year closure of Government Center T station to start March 22

February 12, 2014 10:47 AM

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(MBTA)

The T plans to hang a sign like the one depicted above, along with other signs, to notify riders of the scheduled closure date.

The MBTA today announced the start date for its planned two-year closure of Government Center Station -- Saturday, March 22.

The 24-month closure is part of a $90 million project to renovate and rebuild the busy station at City Hall Plaza.

MBTA personnel began posting signs today at Government Center and other stations, T spokesman Joe Pesaturo said.

The T has also created a webpage with additional details, including recommendations for how passengers should navigate the system during the closure.

A transfer point for the Green and Blue lines, the station is the 13th busiest in the MBTA system and the third oldest, according to the T. On average, 11,315 people enter Government Center Station on weekdays.

Work on the Government Center Station project began in the fall while the station remained opened.

The agency had originally planned to shutdown the station this past September, but decided to delay the closure until after the Callahan Tunnel, which is undergoing construction of its own, reopens.

During the closure, trains will still run through, but will not stop at the station.

The T has said it will take steps to try to reduce impacts from the closure, including running: special bus route that will stop at Government Center, Haymarket, and State stations. And, Bowdoin Station, normally closed on weekends and after 6:30 p.m. on weekdays, will be kept open seven days a week and until the same time other stations close.

The overhaul, the first significant modernization to the Government Center Station in 50 years, will bring it into compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act and make myriad other improvements. The most dramatic change will be a tall, glass-lined station entrance, or headhouse, emerging from City Hall Plaza.

Other work will include: renovating Green Line and Blue Line platforms; overhauling the electrical system; installing new elevators, escalators, LED signs, improved lighting, and an expanded fare collection area, and reconstructing some of the surrounding parts of Cambridge Street and City Hall Plaza, officials said.

The station is scheduled to reopen in the spring of 2016. After it reopens, some work will continue before the project's scheduled completion at the end of 2016. The T has said it expects federal funding to cover about 80 percent of the project cost.

E-mail Matt Rocheleau at matthew.rocheleau@globe.com.
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