National Parks, Constitution Museum Look Toward Future for Navy Yard

The National Park Service, USS Constitution Museum, and the United States Navy held a public meeting at the USS Constitution Museum on Sept. 26, to present their plans for the future of the Navy Yard.

The Charlestown Navy Yard is one of the original six navy yards built after the Revolutionary War, and at its peak had 50,000 people servicing the yard, according to Michael Creasey, Superintendent of the National Parks of Boston.

The National Park was established in 1974, and “never really had a Master Plan,” Creasey said. “We’ve had different tests for how we begin to look at the visitor experience over time. The visitor experience we felt was something we could enhance.”

He said they hired planning and design firm Sasaki to come up with four key values for the Navy Yard: Visitor-Centric, Relevant, Collaborative, and Transformative. They have also engaged the public through public meetings out on the pier and at the museum, and held different workshops to get ideas from the public about what they would like to see in the space.

Through research with Sasaki, the National Parks discovered that 93 percent of visitors to the park are not from Massachusetts, and are part of a more family-based group. Additionally, 80 percent of visitors are following the Freedom Trail.

Creasey said that the changes to the Navy Yard will be more “incremental” over the next few years as they get more feedback, but they’re “hoping to see more big changes over the long haul,” he said.

Anne Grimes Rand, President of the USS Constitution Museum, went through the proposed plans for reimagining the museum and activities that are offered to visitors in the Navy Yard.

The plan will reconfigure how people experience the Navy Yard, and will start off with the creation of a Gateway: “an engaging museum experience” with exhibits, galleries, films, and hands-on activities. “We want visitors to be able to see the ship, and have screening and orientation,” Rand said.

They also hope to interpret stories from the Navy Yard’s 2018-year history, and Move USS Cassin Young into Dry Dock 1 to explain how ship repair works. Additionally, they hope to use Building 10 “as an interpretive transition between USS Constitution (War of 1812) and USS Cassin Young (World War II), according to a slide presented at the meeting.

Another portion of the vision is to enlarge the Commandant’s Lawn, which would make room for community events, concerts, and private functions.

“We envision creating just a friendlier, welcoming space by reorienting a little bit,” Rand said.

The Waterfront would also be activated through this project, creating space on Pier 1 for events, food festivals, and the like.  A steel, ghosted structure would be created to take the place of Building 109 for additional programming space. Rand said the building is not structurally sound, so replacing it with a steel replica would help preserve its history while still allowing the space to be used.

Rand said they also hope to engage youth through activities in the Navy Yard. “The goal is to inspire the next generation of leaders,” she said.

Aside from youth engagement, the community has also been engaged through things like Yoga in the Navy Yard, and they are working on even more programming to bring people to the area.

Commander Nathaniel Shick, Commanding Officer of the USS Constitution, talked about what the U.S. Navy is doing to activate the space.

“We are the only active military service that is embedded in a national park,” Shick said. He said they already do some community outreach, such as military ceremonies that are open to the public, the restoring of “Old Ironsides,” sail training, and more. A public-private partnership with the CNY Collective will be having a Memorandum of Understanding Ceremony on October 5.

Creasey finished the meeting by saying that they are trying to address deferred maintenance in the park, and the National Park Service is working with the General services Administration on reducing building footprint, assessing condition of buildings, and public-private partnerships.

He said there is a maintenance impact of over $4 million in the Boston National Historic Parks, and building conditions assessments and schematic designs are being conducted to determine the cost of fixing buildings that need to be fixed.

He said they need to take a time out on the Hoosac building, as it “may not have the integrity to stand should there be some seismic activity.” He said there are some concerns about brick and mortar on the building. “We should know in the next couple of months what the condition of the Hoosac building is,” Creasey said.

Additionally, they are conducting a market assessment of the buildings in the park and considering potential building leases for buildings such as the Hoosac Lot, Building 1, Building 32, Building 107, and the Commandant’s House, through he said they “would like to retain some type of use of the building.”

After the speaking portion, those in attendance at the meeting were invited to provide feedback  about what they’d like to see in the Navy Yard on interactive boards set up by the team, which was also available to answer any questions.

The reimagining of the Navy Yard will be an ongoing process and hopes to bring a “much more coherent, interpretive story” of the Navy Yard’s history to the public, Rand said, as well as create a “world class visitor experience.”

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