City of Cambridge honors Lesley University for renovation of Threshold’s Wilbur House.
Monday, July 21, 2014
According to the commission, the Preservation Awards were inaugurated in 1997 to celebrate “outstanding historic preservation projects and the commitment of the individuals who worked on those projects, thereby making Cambridge a more attractive and desirable place in which to live and work.”
“Award-winning projects embody the goals of preserving, protecting and celebrating Cambridge's historic architecture and unique sense of place,” the commission says.
But historic architecture doesn’t stay beautiful on its own.
The renovation of the three-story Victorian at 78 Oxford St. — a residence hall now called Wilbur House, which houses 26 students in Lesley University’s Threshold Program — began in May of 2013, as part of a $3.6 million overhaul of Lesley property at 78, and 80 Oxford St. This is the first of three phases to completely overhaul all buildings serving the Threshold program.
According to Marylou Batt, Vice President for Administration, the project was initiated to enhance the program’s ability to serve its students through better housing which fosters independent living and creates a strong sense of community. The facilities were also designed to welcome people of all disabilities and levels of mobility and to reduce energy consumption.
The University engaged Oliver Radford of Perry and Radford Architects to design the renovations to meet both the program needs and Lesley’s commitment to historic presentation of its facilities. “We are proud to receive this award as it signifies Lesley’s commitment to meeting its goals of serving current students and preserving the building's past,” Batt says.
Kevin Murphy, Lesley’s director of facilities and operations said the residence hall necessitated a complete gutting, though the university’s contractors from C.E. Floyd Company of Bedford also needed to preserve the attractive and historic character of the exterior.
“It was a very, very tired building,” says Murphy. “It had stairwells that didn’t comply with today’s code, bedrooms which didn’t meet student needs, antiquated small bathrooms with old fixtures. It was very tired.”
Among the challenges the university and its contractors faced was rubble stone that made pouring the foundation a longer-than-expected process, and an unanticipated surfeit of asbestos that needed to be safely removed and discarded. Still, workers were able to complete the project in late September, allowing students to move in during the fall semester.
And Murphy is proud the project won accolades from the city. Though the residence hall isn’t in a historic district, Murphy says, “We always try to save some of the original fabric of the building. It fits in better with the neighborhood, and it’s the right thing to do.”
Today, the newly renovated, newly-named Wilbur House boasts fully accessible dorm rooms and bathrooms, laundry facilities and a large lounge area with cable TV and DVD. It also is energy-efficient and provides access to students and visitors with mobility concerns. More important, it gives the Threshold students a home they can be proud of, something university President Joe Moore alluded to last fall.
Speaking at a celebratory luncheon in the McKenna Student Center, Moore said at the time, “How a building looks and how it works really matters. Self-respect is the key to personal development and lifelong learning for all of us.”
Threshold Director James Wilbur says the program is already reaping dividends from seeing the renovation of the building that bears his family name.
“The Wilbur House has become the center of activity; the beautiful common room is a great place to hang out with friends,” he says. “The students have taken great pride and ownership in the new building.
Wilbur also touts the “upgraded rooms, accessible to all of our students.”
Threshold is a comprehensive, non-degree, campus-based program at Lesley for highly motivated young adults with diverse learning challenges and other special needs. Founded in 1982, Threshold is the first college-based curriculum in the nation to provide comprehensive vocational and independent-living skills training for highly motivated students who have diverse learning challenges or other special needs.
“As part of the new mini campus with the new alumni center, we are proud to show visitors and prospective students our remarkable surroundings,” Wilbur adds.
Some of the other projects honored by the Historical Commission included the neighboring Jarvis apartment building at 27 Everett St., the Hooper-Lee-Nichols house (home of the Cambridge Historical Society and the second-oldest building in the city) and the iconic Harvard Lampoon building at 44 Bow St.
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