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Stuart Street hostel prepares to open in spring 2012

Posted by Jeremy C. Fox  December 22, 2011 04:00 PM

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A new hostel on Stuart Street is just months away from opening, and already some spaces are nearing completion. Earlier this month, Hostelling International USA hosted a hardhat tour of the new space that showed just how far work on the 125-year-old Dill Building has progressed since construction began around March 1.

The new 55,500-square-foot hostel will be nearly double the size of the nonprofit organization’s current, 28-year-old hostel on Hemenway Street in the Fenway, allowing the organization to accommodate more than 450 guests a night and expand its community programs. It will be the third largest hostel in the US.

Deborah Ruhe, executive director of Hostelling International’s Eastern New England branch, said they have already begun accepting advance reservations for May 15, 2012, and later, though they hope to be open in time for the Boston Marathon in April.

“Marathon weekend would definitely be a sellout, if we’re here,” Ruhe said. She explained that most individuals staying in hostels book close to their arrival dates, but groups sometimes book months or even years in advance. For popular events like the marathon or the Head of the Charles Regatta, every bed is full.

The new hostel will have 468 beds in 100 rooms, 22 of which will be private rooms with their own bathrooms. Most will be dormitory-style rooms with three sets of bunk beds and a shared bathroom outside.

Though a certain amount of uniformity is necessary, there’s a good deal of variety among the many sleeping rooms and the public areas. Some spaces have well-maintained exposed brick, while others will be brightly painted drywall. Each floor has a different ceiling height, and throughout the structure are a surprising variety of structural columns.

There will be some bedrooms on the second floor of this six-story building, but much of the space there and on the firs t-floor is set aside for public spaces, including a coffee shop, a kitchen and dining room, a community room, and a library to be named for “original hostellers” Ben and Roselyn Olken.

Richard Olken, their son, took part in the Dill Building tour and shared a bit of family history. He explained that his father had been friends with Monroe and Isabel Smith, who in 1934 founded American Youth Hostels, the predecessor to Hostelling International.

“[My father] and his friends used to get on their bicycles and ride up to New Hampshire and Vermont and essentially knock on people’s doors and say, ‘Would you like to be a youth hostel? Would you like to have a youth hostel in your home?’” the younger Olken said. “He opened the first few out there in Western Massachusetts and southern Vermont and New Hampshire.”

The senior Olken is probably best known in the Boston area, though, as the proprietor of the Bicycle Exchange that stood in Harvard Square for 60 years. The Olken parents have both died, but Richard Olken and his brothers felt a library in the new hostel was the best way to commemorate them.

Hostelling International USA has also sought to involve the community in the new hostel by inviting youth from the Boston Asian Yes, a group based in neighboring Chinatown, and from Teen Empowerment Dorchester to create murals for display in the hostel through a Community Walls Project.

The organization plans to use the hostel to demonstrate that hostels are an important part of environmentally sustainable tourism, and will incorporate a variety of environmentally friendly technologies into the new facility. It is expected to be the first LEED-certified hostel in the US.

Email Jeremy C. Fox at jeremycfox@gmail.com.
Follow Jeremy C. Fox on Twitter: @jeremycfox.
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2 Typical room 2.jpg

(Courtesy Hostelling International USA)

A typical guest room inside the new hostel will include three rows of bunk beds with storage between them and benches, coat hooks, and towel bars on the opposite wall.

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