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Renovation gives new life to Dot boys’ home

Allison Kelso | 9/16/2009, 8:13 a.m.
Students from Northeastern University paint as part of the renovations to Putnam Place on Glendale Street in Dorchester. The program houses young males between the ages of 15 and 22 who have either “aged out” of the Massachusetts foster care system or just grown exhausted of being shuttled back and forth from home to home as part of it. Tony Irving

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Students from Northeastern University paint as part of the renovations to Putnam Place on Glendale Street in Dorchester. The program houses young males between the ages of 15 and 22 who have either “aged out” of the Massachusetts foster care system or just grown exhausted of being shuttled back and forth from home to home as part of it.

The typical quiet of Glendale Street in Dorchester was replaced last Saturday with a flurry of activity.

As the rain poured down outside, workers inside Putnam Place, located at 78 Glendale Street, were busy sanding the walls. A squadron of Northeastern University students stood at the ready, armed with paint brushes in the building’s foyer, while others worked in the building’s dilapidated basement.

The renovation work was aimed at revitalizing Putnam Place, which houses young males between the ages of 15 and 22 who have either “aged out” of the state’s foster care system — meaning they’ve reached the age where the system will no longer cover the costs of caring for them — or who have just grown exhausted of it. Run by local nonprofit Cambridge Family and Children’s Services (CFCS), the home attempts to teach residents life skills and ease the transition into independent living.

With limited funds to keep the place running, the basement had fallen into disrepair. Sewage and flooding had damaged the floor and a slew of makeshift workspaces dotted the area. At least, that’s what the rooms had looked like before Tsoi/Kobus and Associates, a Cambridge-based architectural design firm, got involved.

The refurbishing of Putnam Place — a pro bono project that was one year and more than $150,000 in the making — creates a safe and inviting space for the six boys who inhabit it, according to the firm.

“We felt we could add a lot of value,” said Katy Tassmer, TKandA’s chief marketing officer. “We wanted to make them feel like it’s more of a home.”

TKandA, Commodore Builders of Newton and dozens of vendors donated supplies to transform the basement. A woodworking station opens up to the house’s backyard, while a recording studio and study lounge stand on either side of a laundry space. Murals and bright colors adorn the walls.

The art and design all centers on the T, the theme chosen by Putnam’s residents. When workshops were held with the youth to discuss how the space should look, the public transit system eventually emerged as the visual choice, as it serves as a connection to their Cambridge roots.

Signs for a mock Putnam Place T stop, a shelving structure shaped like the front of a train car, and brightly colored rooms of orange, blue and red all convey the theme.

“They really came up with the concept on their own,” said Rick Kobus, one of the principals of the architectural design firm that helmed the project.

While the renovated basement does include unique flourishes like the woodworking and studio setups, Putnam Place’s focus remains basic — providing the young inhabitants with positive role models and teaching them staple skills for independent living that some people may take for granted. Staff members present around the clock teach residents how to handle necessary tasks like ironing clothes, planning meals and opening a bank account.

“We actually march them to the bank,” said CFCS Executive Director Maria Mossaides.

Mossaides, who has run the nonprofit for the past year, stressed that young men, particularly in this high-risk age group, need the connection and support that a home like Putnam Place can provide.