Town Common Renovation Project

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To see the full draft concept presentation as well as design changes, please see the linked documents below.

*Construction is nearly complete! The project remains on track for a grand reopening in the Spring of 2023. See below for the most recent update from the project team.*

PLEASE NOTE: The Town Common and Garrity's Way will be closed to the public for the duration of construction, but a handicap-accessible ramp will be open leading up to the front entrance of Town Hall. 


Planning for the Town Common project can be traced all the way back to 2010 and 2011, when the Town Hall building was renovated. Staging for the construction had left a footprint on the Common that prompted Town staff to consider going beyond simple repairs and to take the opportunity to make some aesthetic improvements in the process, such as realigning the walkways. The need for intervention became clearer when it was determined in 2013 that many of the older trees on the Common were failing due to disease. This included the original Blue Tree, which was ultimately replaced in 2015. In response to this issue, DPW staff drafted new planting plans and concepts for modest tweaks to the Common's irrigation system and layout. 

When planning for the streetscape improvement project known as "Downtown Phase I" began the next year, talks about a Town Common renovation resurfaced. An exploratory committee (a Design Review Team) was formed in 2017 to identify what sort of redesign could be done that would integrate with the Downtown Phase I improvements. These talks concluded with a decision that funding should be sought for a more major and comprehensive renovation. Meetings with the Community Preservation Committee (CPC) resulted in design funding being secured at Town Meeting in 2019, which was used to bring BETA Group on board to develop the vision for the Common. A Steering Committee of Town partners and BETA consultants steadily revised and advanced the design through Select Board and CPC approvals through 2020 and 2021. After construction funding was granted at Special Town Meeting in May of 2021, further design revisions were presented to and accepted by the Planning Board later that year. The construction bidding process in the spring of 2022 resulted in the selection of M.J. Cataldo as the project's construction contractor. Minor design modifications meant to realign the project with the budget were approved by the Design Review Board in June of 2022, finally paving the way for the construction phase of the project to begin. Construction will continue throughout the remainder of 2022.

Conceptual renderings of the finalized design can be seen above. It reimagines the current radial layout by opening up the center of the Common and relocating the walkways to the edges of the space. This creates a seamless integration with the surrounding streetscape and the ongoing improvements in the downtown, making the walking experience more pleasant and convenient. It also supports opportunities for shaded seating and varied activities around the perimeter of the Common that look inward at the newly-created "Great Lawn," an attractive area for passive recreation and gathering in front of the Blue Tree. The paved central "terrace" can be covered with a tent for a shaded refuge on sunny days, while the catenary lights illuminate the space at night. Lastly, the addition of new trees will refresh the Common's aesthetic and make it a place that people will want to linger in.

These improvements are meant to give the community a focal point downtown in which to come together, enjoy the outdoors, and connect to the Needham institutions and businesses all around them.

Project Team and Contributors, Past and Present

This Town Common Renovation Project is a product of several years of planning and collaboration. Throughout this process, contributions have been made by Town staff (across many departments), experienced design professionals, and members of Needham's committees, boards, and the public they serve. These include:

  • Ed Olsen, Project Lead and DPW Superintendent of Parks & Forestry
  • Justin Savignano, Asst. Town Engineer and Project Manager
  • BETA Group, the engineering firm selected to design the project, led by P.E. Bob Mackie
  • M.J. Cataldo, Inc., the construction/landscaping firm selected to perform the construction renovations, led by President Joe Cataldo
  • The Design Review Team, comprised of representatives from DPW (Parks & Forestry, Engineering, Water & Sewer, and Building Maintenance), the Town Manager's Office, Planning Dept, Building Dept, Health Dept., Police and Fire Depts., ITC, PPBC, Conservation Comm., and Comm. on Disabilities
  • The Steering Committee/Town Common Working Group, comprised of representatives from DPW (Parks & Forestry, Engineering, Highway, and Admin), BETA Group, the Town Manager's Office, the Select Board, the Design Review Board, Planning & Economic Development, ITC, the Historical Society, and Comm. on Disabilities
  • The Select Board, Community Preservation Committee, and Planning Board
  • Needham Residents, who helped to shape the goals of this project from its inception through public comment at committee, board, and Town Meetings
BETA logo
MJ Cataldo logo

Design Development Documents

Project Timeline

  • 2013–2014: Initial Concept Planning by DPW
  • Spring 2014–Spring 2015: Blue Tree Replacement Process
  • Spring 2017–Summer 2017: Town Design Review Team Exploratory Discussions
  • Winter 2017: Project Designated for Public Bidding and Full Design/Construction Process
  • Spring 2018–Spring 2019: Concept Plans are Presented to and Revised by CPC
  • Annual Town Meeting May 2019: CPC Recommends Design Funding, Granted
  • Spring 2020: BETA Group Selected as Design Firm, Steering Committee Formed
  • Spring 2020–Fall 2020: Design is Developed by BETA/Steering Committee for Presentation for Town Approval
  • November 2020: Design is Presented to Select Board, Approved
  • Winter 2020–Spring 2021: Design is Presented to and Revised by CPC, Approved
  • Special Town Meeting May 2021: Select Board and CPC Recommends Construction Funding, Granted
  • Summer 2021–Winter 2021: Design is Presented to, Revised, and Finalized by Planning Board, Approved
  • March-April 2022: Bidding Process to Procure Construction Contractor
  • May 2022: M.J. Cataldo Selected and Contracted with as Construction Firm
  • June 2022: Final Design Revisions are Presented to Design Review Board, Approved
  • Early Summer 2022 – Winter 2022/2023: Construction Phase of Project
  • Spring 2023: Grand Reopening of the Town Common

Recent Project Updates (reverse chronological order)

  • December 29, 2022
    • The Project Team released a full-length update to take us into the new year. See below:

Thank you to the residents and businesses in Town for your patience over the past few months as the Town embarked on its new Town Common design and renovation. We are committed to sharing this new space with the public beginning in the Spring of 2023. Crews have worked diligently since the project’s inception, including through weather challenges and supply chain disruptions. We’re excited that the work is nearly complete.

While it may look from the outside that the renovation is complete, there is still work to be done to ensure the safety of those who use the space. Additionally, it is critical that the sod and new plantings have time to take hold over the winter months so that the space can be enjoyed for many years to come.

Additional Work
Work to be completed in the coming weeks will include additional landscaping, electrical connections, landscaping lighting, and finishing work on irrigation, pathways, seat walls, sidewalks, and the asphalt paving of Garrity Way. Over the next few months we are also anticipating the installation of landscaping furnishings, lawn furniture, safety surfacing for the Circle of Peace, and Big Belly trash receptacles.

The Town has planted 21 new trees as part of this project. These trees were chosen specifically for their size, spacing, species, flowering, habitat value, and visual qualities. Many of these deciduous and evergreen trees need time over the winter and over the next year or two to become acclimated to their new environment. We would like to thank parents and caregivers for keeping children off of the trees so that they may be protected for all to enjoy.

The sod that has been laid will be dormant until mid-to-late April and will have a yellow appearance until the soil warms. Like the trees, this sod needs time to knit and root into its new soil structure, which will begin in earnest this Spring. The sod selected for this project is a special Apex blend of Kentucky Bluegrass, much like the grass at the Town’s baseball and softball fields. It is beautiful and tough turf that has been bred to withstand foot traffic and compaction. The Town will be applying topdressing sand and aerating it into the soil profile to help with rooting, reduce thatch, help with drainage, and alleviate the natural compaction of foot traffic. Organic fertilizer will also be spread seasonally to help build healthy soil. The Common’s new irrigation system will help us control when we need to water. For many decades assistance with the landscaping on the Common had been provided through a pro bono collaboration with Hartney Greymont. The Town looks forward to working with a team of experts to ensure healthy landscaping.  

We look forward to opening the Common this Spring. Thank you for your continued patience, and we look forward to welcoming the public to this space for years to come!

  • December 22, 2022
    • Continued installing concrete walkway body pavers
    • Installed new trees and shrubs
    • Charged and winterized the new sprinkler system
    • Installed brick veneer for the curved masonry wall
    • Finished laying and installing the sod
    • Finished resetting the granite curbing
    • Erected the steel shade structures

      Town Common Project completed tasks December 22
  • December 7, 2022
    • Finished the base for the paver walkways
    • Moved existing bench and statue to their new location
    • Installed tent post footings and tie-down anchor footings
    • Installed footing for curved bench wall at the entrance of Garrity's Way
    • Began installing concrete pavers on the walkways
    • Began installing the irrigation system

      Town Common Project completed tasks December 7
  • November 14, 2022
    • Excavated, formed, and placed the concrete footing for the new Circle of Peace location
    • Moved and reinstalled the Circle of Peace Statue
    • Continued prepping gravel base for the new walkways
    • Installed and wired the restored pedestrian light poles around the perimeter of the Common

      Town Common Project completed tasks November 14

  • November 7, 2022
    • The DPW Parks & Forestry Division relocated one of the small trees to an area by the Reservoir outside of the Public Services Admin Building
    • Uncovered and filled an abandoned drywell at the corner of Garrity's Way and Chapel Street
    • Excavated, formed, and placed the concrete footing for new shade structures
    • Completed the layout, exaction, and installation of the compacted sub-base for the new walkways
    • Removed and stockpiled the existing granite curbing along Garrity's Way

      Town Common Project completed tasks November 7
  • October 4, 2022
    • The Town and its contractor partner continued work throughout the summer on the project's groundwork and utility work. While not clearly visible from the perimeter fence, significant progress has been made. Since the last update: 

      • A subterranean stormwater drainage system was installed, with 7 new catch basins, 4 manhole structures, and hundreds of feet of drainpipe 
      • Approximately 2,000 feet of underground conduits were trenched and installed to support the new lighting and electrical demands 
      • New precast foundations for the pedestrian light posts were installed along the Chapel Street and Highland Avenue sides of the Common as part of the new walkway layout 
    • While this work has been ongoing, the project has been experiencing some materials delays due to ongoing supply chain issues, particularly with steel and electrical components. The Town is still waiting on structural steel for the new shade structures as well as the special anchor bolts needed for the structures' foundations. The delay in receiving these items has slowed down the project's progress as seen from the street. Because these heavy steel pieces require deep foundations to be installed, that work must be completed before finished hardscaping and landscaping can take place above ground. However, it is anticipated that these materials will arrive in the coming week. The community can expect to see work pick up quickly over the next month!
  • July 15, 2022
    • Physical reconstruction of the Town Common began this week. As part of that reconstruction project, the Town’s Forestry Division developed a plan to preserve certain healthy trees, including the historic Blue Tree that is lit for the holiday season. In addition to working around and protecting the Blue Tree, three other healthy trees are being relocated on the Common as part of the project.

      Unfortunately, the Forestry Division determined that six trees are unable to be preserved or relocated due to sickness, damage or their status as an invasive species. Before determining that the trees must be removed, the Town’s team of five certified arborists weighed the risks and rewards of each tree in question. These decisions were also reviewed by members of the Project Committee and by the Design and Engineering Team members from BETA Engineering.

      The Town Common Renovation project includes the planting of 22 new flowering, fruiting, deciduous and Evergreen trees along with the reintroduction of historic Elm trees. These trees will grow and thrive for the next 75+ years and will be placed in strategically designed positions to give the Common a sense of symmetry and a place for future shade. The new trees include:

      • 2 Red Maple ‘October Glory’
      • 2 Hinoki False Cypress
      • 2 Slender Silhouette Sweet Gum
      • 4 Crab Apple
      • 4 Ivory Silk
      • 4 Princeton Elm
      • 2 Valley Forge Elm
      • 2 Musashino Zelkova
  • June 6, 2022
    • Final design modifications to realign the design with the construction budget (substitute walkway materials and trees, below)  were approved by the Design Review Board, allowing construction to get underway.

      Final design revisions to pavers and trees, presented to the DRB
  • April 12, 2022
    • M.J. Cataldo was awarded the contract to construct the project. The Dept. of Public Works began work on formally contracting with the vendor so that a construction schedule could be finalized ASAP.
  • April 7, 2022
    • The submitted construction bids were opened and publicly read aloud at 12:00pm at the Public Services Administration Building. M.J. Cataldo, Inc., a construction and landscaping contractor from Littleton, MA, was determined to be the apparent low bidder.
  • March 17, 2022
    • The Invitation for Bid documents (developed by DPW and their BETA partners) were posted to the Town website and sent out to contractors, giving them 3 weeks to put together their bids for the project's construction phase.
  • December 8, 2021
    • The Project's special permit was granted at a meeting of the Planning Board, allowing for BETA's design to be finalized and for the drafting of bid documents for the construction phase to begin.
  • October 26, 2021
    • The Project was brought back before the Planning Board to present small revisions to its design, including:
      • Attaching the overhead hanging light features to permanent poles on the shade structure rather than the poles needing to be removed
      • Adding a podium to the seat wall to store sound equipment for events and gatherings

        Oct 26 Design Changes
  • October 2021
    • Project Lead and DPW Parks Superintendent Ed Olsen presented the CPC-approved design to the Planning Board for their approval/public comment
  • May 1, 2021
    • The Select Board and the Community Preservation Committee presented an Article at Special Town Meeting for $1,364,000 in construction funding for the project, which was granted
  • March 2021
    • Project Lead and DPW Parks Superintendent Ed Olsen presented the most recent design to the Community Preservation Committee for their approval/public comment
  • December 2020
    • The design and project plan was filed with the Community Preservation Committee for their consideration
  • November 2020
    • The most recent design, developed over the course of several Steering Committee meetings in the summer and fall of 2020, was presented to the Select Board for the first time and was ultimately approved pending review by the CPC and the Planning Board
  • October 2020
    • BETA, in conjunction with its Town partners on the Steering Committee, decides upon a plan for the arrangement of trees, either relocated or planted as part of the project

      Tree Planting Plan