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Wentworth students help Hyde Park YMCA get in shape

Architecture students from Wentworth Institute of Technology moved dirt for landscaping and install benches at the Thomas M. Menino YMCA in Hyde Park.
Architecture students from Wentworth Institute of Technology moved dirt for landscaping and install benches at the Thomas M. Menino YMCA in Hyde Park.(Keith Bedford/Globe Staff)

As other students agonized over term papers and crammed for final exams, a group of Wentworth Institute of Technology seniors was busy Thursday mounting mahogany benches on custom concrete blocks — the finishing touches on a new streetscape for Hyde Park’s Thomas M. Menino YMCA.

The hands-on project is coming to a close days before the group is set to graduate, capping a semester-long effort to add public seating and transform a dead space that until recently consisted of a mulch bed adorned only with the sickly remnants of a hedge.

Now, stone pavers stretch along the front and side of the building’s facade, interspersed with plantings of spring flowers and succulents. Angular concrete blocks form sturdy bases for the red wood slats the students carved using advanced machines in a Wentworth shop.

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The effort came as part of a studio class focused on the practicalities of design. But while many students in such classes create theoretical concepts for projects that will never be built, this class was intended to show budding architects the complexity of real-world work.

They had a real client to work with in the YMCA and had to work with contractors such as Northern Design of Loudon, N.H., which donated the 38 concrete blocks that are the center of the project, and Unilock New England, which gave the pavers.

“A lot of us had never worked on actual building projects,” said Moneerah Alajaji, a student from Saudi Arabia who is working on the project. “It’s nice to see the thing you are doing come to life.”

The class, taught by associate professor Rob Trumbour, also kept in mind the man who lent the building its name. Menino, a proud Hyde Park resident and Boston’s longest-serving mayor, helped inspire the effort to create a useful community space, school officials said.

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The students had to think creatively about how the space would be used, according to Thomas Darr, a Sharon student who worked on the project.

For instance, the group noticed there was a trail through the mulch bed between the sidewalk and a parking lot, so they made sure the final design would not block that path.

The project has met an important need for the YMCA, which had limited space for people to sit and wait as they come and go, according to executive director Scottie Biggers.

Just as satisfying, he said, is the look of the project, which melds with the glass, brick, and stone face of the building.

“It all comes together. I like it,” Biggers said. “We are getting lots of great feedback from the members.”


Andy Rosen can be reached at andrew.rosen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @andyrosen.