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Restoring old Southie police station hasn’t been easy

A former police station in South Boston is being converted into veterans’ housing.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

The brick building at the corner of D and Athens streets in South Boston isn’t on any historic registers, but that does not mean it lacks a history.

It was South Boston’s primary police station for nearly seven decades until closing in 1981. Original architect James E. McLaughlin also designed the courthouse on East Broadway and the Boston Latin School. His best known work, though, is Fenway Park.

Now that the century-old building is being converted to veterans’ housing, keeping some of that history intact has turned out to be tougher than architect Neal Mongold expected. Challenges required him to go back to the drawing board repeatedly.


“The entire structure was really a puzzle,” said Mongold, a principal at the Narrow Gate Architecture in Boston.

The conversion of the building has had challenges, some overcome by filling the basement with gravel.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

The roughly $10 million, 24-unit project known as Patriot Homes won’t be finished until next summer. But Mongold hopes the big surprises are over.

He wanted to put the mechanical systems — think heating and air conditioning — in the basement, until he learned that area had a high level of groundwater. The HVAC system will instead go on the roof. The basement, meanwhile, has been filled with crushed stone and gravel.

Mongold also needed to deal with an unusual roof structure. The ceiling on the second floor originally supported the building’s roof, potentially making it tough to renovate. That prompted the builders to replace the roof entirely with a new truss-based system to support heavy snow loads without relying on the old interior walls.

Then there was the surprising amount of asbestos uncovered — surprising even for an old building. The development team of Caritas Communities and the South Boston Neighborhood Development Corp. landed a $414,000 state grant for the remediation.

About 40 percent of the former District 6 building will be retained, including its brick facade. The rest has been demolished. Twelve studios will be built in the remaining structure; 12 one- and two-bedroom units will be built in a new wood-framed building behind the station.


“It might be likely that it would have been cheaper to tear the whole thing down and build all new,’’ Mongold said. “But I think, for community reasons and architectural history reasons, it was important to keep it. It’s a handsome building.”

The roof has been rebuilt with trusses.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff
The handrails on the original staircase haven’t been replaced, yet.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

Jon Chesto can be reached at jon.chesto@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.