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Torpedo Factory plans could include cafe, maker-space, and ‘gloryholes’

The city is looking at options to move things around in the Torpedo Factory and insert some surprises into activity holes on the ground floor.

In a Torpedo Factory Art Center Implementation Strategy Update meeting, Diane Ruggiero, deputy director of recreation, parks and cultural activities, outlined options being reviewed that could lead to some radical changes for the Torpedo Factory.

In addition to an option to keep the Torpedo Factory more-or-less as it currently exists, other options being considered include a potentially expensive rooftop addition or handing management of the Torpedo Factory’s ground floor off to a private-public partnership.

While opening up the rooftop sounds simple enough, Ruggiero said the building would need a significant overhaul in order to handle the added weight and usage.

“As it currently exists, the building is at capacity,” Ruggiero said. “We’re at a little over 100 years old. Building standards and construction materials are very different than what they were. The addition of the second floor mezzanine in the 1980s used up that little bit of wiggle room, that extra capacity.”

Ruggiero said work on the roof would require large-scale renovations to the building’s foundation.

“If a rooftop were pursued, that would require the removal of the ground floor slab so the pilings could be accessed and a new metal gridwork system added and the ground floor slab being replaced,” Ruggiero said. “Essentially, the whole first floor would be replaced. That’s a significant and expensive undertaking, just to make the rooftop usable.”

One alternative being considered is making more of the waterfront side of the first floor open to the exterior, which would require some structural work but not as much as a rooftop amenity, Ruggiero said. There are few specific details on cost for the projects, but Ruggiero said the cost estimating and financial feasibility is currently being worked on.

Under the second option, parts of that space could still be broken up piecemeal as private investments in the building. In particular, Ruggiero said part of the ground floor could be used as a cafe.

The idea faced some pushback from others in the meeting, who noted that previous cafes on the ground floor of the Torpedo Factory have failed, but Ruggiero said the hope plans for further opening of the ground to the rest of the waterfront could make it more accessible.

Ruggiero said plans for the Torpedo Factory could entail pushing more of the artists studios higher in the building to open up room for a maker-space on the ground floor — a sort of collaborative workspace — and a glass blowing studio.

Ruggiero also said that the glass studio would include “gloryholes” — spaces for reheating glass to soften it up. If the city adds glass blowing to the Torpedo Factory, Ruggiero said the studio would likely have 2-4 furnaces.

The change would mean around 40% less overall space for artists. The second floor would be all-studios, with the Art League moved up to the third floor along with archeology and more studio space.

“I don’t think fewer square feet necessarily means fewer artists,” Ruggiero said. “We’re still bringing artists to the building, just different kinds of artists than what we currently have… [but] yes, there is a net reduction in space allocated for studios [compared to what] we currently see in the building.”

There will be another update on the plan sometime in November before it heads to the City Council review in December.

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