EF Education First Brings Public-Private Partnership to the ‘Lost Half-Mile’

Education FirstThe Education First construction site. Photo by Adrianne Mathiowetz.

EF Education First took another step in revitalizing what was once known as the “lost half-mile of the Charles River” this fall when it broke ground on a 300,000-square-foot, 12-story building with dedicated public space and amenities in Cambridge’s North Point neighborhood.

Cambridge is home to the North American headquarters of EF, a 52-year-old, family-owned company that provides language classes, academic degrees, cultural exchanges, and study abroad programs around the world. EF’s Vice President of Properties Shawna Marino says she likes to think of the company as “the private-sector State Department.”

“Our mission is to open the world through education,” Marino says. “Everything we do under our roof, under our umbrella, really helps bring the world together and break down barriers of language, culture, and geography.”

The company was founded in Sweden in 1965, and has employees at 500 locations around the world, according to its website. When EF opened its first office in Cambridge at One Memorial Drive in 1987, it had only three employees, Marino says. In 1996, the company had grown enough for a building of its own, which it built at One Education St. in Cambridge’s North Point neighborhood.

This was the beginning of EF’s relationship with the North Point Neighborhood, a part of the city that until the 1960s was made up of railway yards, was not open to the public, and garnered the nickname “the lost half-mile,” according to Charles Sullivan, executive director of the Cambridge Historical Commission.

“As the railroad contracted, beginning in the 1960s, the railways were no longer necessary, and they sold off land piecemeal,” Sullivan says. “Then, about 15 years ago, the railroad sold off a large chunk of land to a developer, and then that became known as North Point. It’s a made-up name.”

“By usage it has become the name of that neighborhood, which never had a name before, because it never was a neighborhood before,” he adds.

EF broke ground on its North American headquarters at Two Education St. in 2012. The company realized it needed more space almost immediately after construction began, and started looking for a site for a third building, according to Marino.

“As we were constructing our North American headquarters, we started working on a very complicated transaction, and a public-private partnership in its truest form with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to acquire … 125,000 square feet of land,” Marino says.

The company plans to use the new building at 10 North Point Blvd. to create general office and administrative space, above-grade parking, and student housing for the Hult International Business School—an independent nonprofit that EF’s founder, Bertil Hult, is a benefactor of—according to a press release and Marino.

The land was previously owned by the State Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), which used it as a maintenance facility, Marino says. The land was purchased from the state for $20.4 million in 2014, according to Marino. The money generated from the sale allowed the state to purchase its own permanent maintenance facility.

It also gave EF an opportunity to eventually give the public access to the space, which was not permitted when it was being used by the DCR, Marino says. The project includes almost two new acres of revitalized park land.

“That’s really the exciting part of this entire project, from a community perspective,” Marino says. “Since this land was technically park land, EF was committed to replacing that park land as part of this project and really reclaiming it for public use.”

A public fitness center with a rock climbing wall, a small cafe, public restrooms, and hundreds of new public bike parking spaces will be available on the ground floor.

“It’s an exciting, sort of mixed-use building,” Marino said. “You’re going to have student housing, plus office space, plus recreational amenities for the public all in one.”

Those amenities will include a five-on-five flex soccer field, an outdoor sports track that can be used for yoga and fitness classes, and a circuit of adult training challenges circulating throughout the entire outside area of the building.

“So, if you’re on a bike ride or a run and coming past this area, you can stop and do some additional intense lifting, or whatever you want to do,” Marino says.

EF hopes to have the building at 10 North Point Blvd. finished and open in the late spring of 2019, according to Marino.

EF also bought an additional small building at 17 Monsignor O’Brien Highway that will be used for classroom space for Hult. The company plans to develop the space behind it by creating publicly accessible basketball and tennis courts.

“It’s going to be open to the public, and will be really an extension of North Point Park,” Marino says, noting that in total EF is contributing about two-acres of new public open space.

Being able to add that much open space “in the heart of the city” is “pretty unique,” Marino says. The building will be another contribution EF has made to a landscape that “used to look much different than it does now,” she adds.

“In the past 20 years we’ve been fortunate to play a real, pivotal role in the overall transformation of what used to be called the ‘lost half-mile of the Charles River,’” Marino says. “It’s been a massive public-private partnership for many, many years between EF, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and the City of Cambridge to really bring this area to where it is today.”

This story originally appeared in the The Wellness Issue issue of Scout Cambridge, which is available for free at more than 200 locations throughout the city or by subscription.

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