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Redesign fits Government Center to a T

Story credited to: Richard Weir, Boston Herald

The Government Center T station has the charm of a bomb shelter - and that’s its most winsome feature. Impressions only get worse up close.

“It feels like you are walking into a cave,” said Frank DePaola, the MBTA’s assistant general manager for design and construction.

DePaola is heading a project to give the dreary, circa 1964 station a $72 million, top-to-bottom facelift that will replace its bunker-style “head house” with a glistening, three-story tall glass tower, add two new elevators and rebuild the platforms.

“This will feel like you are walking into the lobby of a hotel or the atrium of a shopping area,” DePaola said of the new structure - scheduled to be completed in late 2015 - that will serve as a giant skylight to filter daylight right down to the Green Line platform.

The transparency of the windowed cube is twofold: It increases security by allowing passengers and police to see in and out of the entranceway and it also blends in with the surrounding buildings.

“It’s more of a minimalist architecture, the exposed-steel framing with glass,” he said. “By being transparent, it doesn’t really block or intrude on the architecture of the area or make a big statement.”

I’m not sure why anyone would be sensitive about overshadowing the nearest landmark, the much maligned, concrete brutalist behemoth that is City Hall, which incidentally leads Virtual Tourist’s list of the “The World’s Top 10 Ugliest Buildings.”

That is exactly what a previous concept would have done had it not been scrapped several years ago after coming in $20 million over budget. That design envisioned the station headhouse looking like an enormous sail made of cables, columns and “engineered fabric” extending from Tremont Street to City Hall.

But DePaola said MassDOT’s new leadership resulted in the hiring of a new architectural-engineering firm, HDR, and the creating of a new, more Spartan-like desisn that focuses resources more on improving the transit experience than on flair. The new concept calls for an 8,000-square-foot headhouse - 3,000 feet larger than the existing one - with 10 fare gates, double the amount now that tend to bottleneck at rush hour.

The platform improvements will include brighter lighting, new tiles and raised Green Line platforms to allow people in wheelchairs or with canes and strollers easier access to trolleys. It will also include totally rebuilt connections to the Blue Line and a new evacuation stairwell for that line.

But the biggest addition will be two new elevators, which will make the station ADA compliant. Adding to the project’s huge price tag will be the building of a temporary, nearby head house so that the station can remain open during construction.

Riders I showed the new designs to last week had mixed opinions, from calling the new station “gorgeous” to an unnecessary burden to taxpayers.

“It’s time for a change,” said Robert Brown, 60, a physician from Brookline. “It’s pretty drab. Since this is sort of like the hub, it should look a lot nicer than the average station.”