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Symmes project takes shape, revamps our horizon

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Arlington 360 rendering of Symmes projectVISION: Arlington 360 rendering of Symmes project.

You're in the lot at Stop & Shop putting groceries in your car. You look up and think: 'Hey, Symmes is really coming along.'

According to those most closely involved with the largest construction development in Arlington history, that's true.

The project on the 18-arce site of the former Symmes Hospital was launched in 2001 but delayed earlier on by neighborhood unrest and then a lengthy recession, during which a developer went bust. It's back on track.

Jake Upton, a partner with Upton + Partners of Dedham, says the first units expect to be completed next summer.

"While there is much work to do, it is exciting to see this special project begin to take shape," he said following a 90-minute tour of the site.

He said that Arlington 360 LLC "has been working diligently with our development partners, respective general contractors and the Arlington community to coordinate the timely construction of 176 residential units, 90 units of assisted living and two public parks." Upton's company is working with the Jefferson Apartment Group of Virginia.

The Shelter Group of Baltimore, which is building an assisted-living facility on the lower part of the site, next to the woods preserved as open space, closed on its part of the project in October and is readying the site for construction.

Activity at the site this month is changing the contour of Arlington's horizon, the site's immediate neighborhood as well as memories of what was for nearly a century a community hospital.

"Bottom line -- nobody wants a lot of housing and nobody wants construction in their backyard," wrote Michele Barry in an email Dec. 6. She represents neighbors through the Symmes Neighborhood Advisory Committee (SNAC). "But since we have to have both, we are glad to have Jake and now Rick on the project."

She was referring to Upton and Rick Gallagher, who is the town's representative for the project.

Gallagher, a longtime town resident, aims to see that contractors follow the plans that protects the neighborhood (see sidebar titled "Gallagher goal to protect neighbors includes early morning visits").

Further, the Arlington Land Trust reports about changes to the site's open space, along Summer Street (see sidebar titled "Protected open-space areas set aside for public").

On a 90-minute tour on Dec. 5 Upton showed the progress underway with the 164 apartments and 12 townhouses.

We began in quiet at the trailer for NEI of Braintree, the general contractor. As we talked, plans by the Architectural Team of Chelsea hung on the all.

"The project is pretty much on schedule," Upton said. Earlier, after construction began last April, delays occurred because of scheduling utility.

Upton hopes that is behind him, and he expected NStar to connect electricals at a point near Summer and Grove before Christmas.

The main aim on Dec. 5 was to ready the project for the depth of winter.

Donning white hard hats with NEI logos and yellow vests striped in Orange, we went out into the uncommonly mild day. The scene was organized chaos: As many as 350 workers scrambled to address a series of issue.

Down the hill, situated next to the woods, you could see the trailer for Pro Con of Portsmouth, N.H., the contractor for the assisted-living project. Nearby, long rigs were being filled with dirt for foundation. More workers will be on-site once construction of Brightview gets underway.

Main push: Get ready for winter

Up the hill that day, the top priority was capping the access roads to the various parts of the site with binder pavement. "Great," Upton said, when he saw crews putting down layers of black material.

After road work, he said, pouring is scheduled before winter for concrete foundations accommodating underground parking for an estimated 270 vehicles (Earlier plans for project had as many as 270 units). Also going on is window installing, so inside work can proceeded during January and February's cold.

As we walked through partly built units of the nine buildings under construction, we stepped higher on unfinished staircases. At one point, we stood on a deck overlooking a large swimming pool, near sandwiched between living areas and the yet-to-be built marketing office.

We climbed ever higher until we stood at the highest point we could safely reach. In the distance the Boston skyline beckoned, a view some high-flying residents will see.

Price-range numbers still to come

Asked for a price range for the finished units, Upton would say only: "We look forward to pricing the for-sale condominiums in the coming months."

Around us lay scenes in various stages of completion, including two tall elevator shafts, viewable from Mass. Ave. They are built to support two levels of below-grade parking as well as four stories of residential housing, Upton said. More than 50 feet tall, the shafts will have good portions below grade.

Visible from above as well as from Mass. Ave. is a formidable retaining wall -- 28 feet high at the most, it wraps around the front of the homes. Its primary goal is to control runoff. Behind and beneath it is a gigantic storm drain to stop water and let it soak into the soil.

"No peak surge" after a rain storm is what the drain is after, Upton said. He said he thought an 18-wheeler might be able to fit there. "I might be exaggerating," he added.

For anyone astonished about the pace of construction, particularly after so many years of failed hopes, Upton commented: "Dramatic changes occur the beginning of the project, when framing occurs." The public sees much rising, and then little seems to occur as a myriad of interior details are worked out.

Details? "Millions and millions," he said.

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