The state Department of Transportation will replace all four exterior walls of the Callahan Tunnel vent building on North Street in the North End.
Construction on the $6.5 million project could begin as early November and should take about one year to complete. Though the agency had considered giving the building a dramatically different look, replacing the old red brick with panels of terra cotta and metal, the Massachusetts Historical Commission rejected that proposal and the building will be restored to its current appearance.
All work will be done during the day, 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., with work on Saturday only with permission of the project engineer. There will be no work on Sundays or holidays, and no street closures are anticipated.
At a community meeting on Thursday, John Romano, municipal affairs liaison for MassDOT said it’s necessary to replace the walls because the building has deteriorated so badly.
“The brick is falling apart,” Romano said. “We actually had one of these columns of brick completely just fall right down. … One day, we just got a phone call there was a pile of bricks on the ground.”
That area of the building has been covered with a protective netting to prevent falling brick from causing damage or injury.
There are seven vent buildings or shafts in Boston for the Callahan, Sumner, and O’Neill tunnels: two buildings in the North End, two in East Boston, and three vent shafts downtown. Romano said each vent building has some portion covered in netting and all are due for replacement. This one was chosen to go first, Romano said, in part because it was necessary to close the adjacent playground and many in the neighborhood had asked when it could reopen.
Some residents at the meeting noted that the vent buildings of the Callahan Tunnel are in worse repair than those of the Sumner Tunnel, though the Sumner was built almost 30 years earlier.
Rather than use individual bricks and mortar, the new façades will consist of brick panels approximately 20 feet long. Commercial Street resident Victor Brogna questioned whether the Historical Commission would have to approve a mockup of the brick panels before they were installed. He was concerned that brick panel of inferior quality would be obvious and unattractive.
“On the corner of Boylston Street and Clarendon Street in Back Bay, there’s a building with brick panel,” Brogna said. “And I’ve walked by it for 25 years and it looks like brick panel. It doesn’t look like hand-laid brick. And to me it looks ugly.”
Leo Marino, the project manager hired by MassDOT, told Brogna that while the Historical Commission would not review the materials, the project team would check the color and texture of a sample to ensure that they were appropriate.
The contract for the work is nearly complete, and the project should be put out to bid relatively soon, Romano said. MassDOT expects to have the four walls replaced one at a time to keep the dust and disruption of construction to a minimum, thought Romano said they would remain open to another plan if the contractor selected has a reasonable proposal.
Any change in plan would be discussed at a public forum in the neighborhood. At the request of residents attending Thursday’s meeting, Romano said he would schedule another meeting after the contractor has been hired and before work begins to introduce the contractor to the community.
Jeff Cirace, the owner of V. Cirace & Son at 173 North St., asked if the contract could include penalties for the contractor if work gets behind schedule. He said that during the Big Dig, work on North Street that had been scheduled to take three months would up lasting about a year, which hurt his business badly.
“I was promised no street closures. I was promised that this was going to be a 90-day project, very small,” Cirace said. “This small thing turned into a nightmare.”
Peter J. Cavicchi, a director of engineering services for MassDOT, said incentives and disincentives had been used on other projects and were considered for this project, but no firm decision had been made yet.
Romano said the problem was that an incentive would also have to be offered to the contractor, which was more difficult to include in a smaller project like this one.
“We can look into that, but we can’t make that promise,” Romano said. “Some of that’s out of our hands.”
Correction: Due to a reporting error, an earlier version of this story indicated that there are seven vent buildings for the Callahan Tunnel. There are two buildings for the Callahan Tunnel, two for the Sumner Tunnel, and three vent shafts for the O’Neill Tunnel.
Email Jeremy C. Fox at email@example.com.