Port Society breaks ground on $2.7 million improvement project for Bethel, Mariners Home

By Steve Urbon

May 06. 2016 6:09PM

NEW BEDFORD — The partially renovated and repaired Seamen’s Bethel and Mariners Home, both with new windows and repaired south exterior walls, will now get a thorough restoration and upgrade to bring it up to the standards expected in the 21st century.

About 50 people sat in chairs on the Bethel’s front lawn Friday to witness the groundbreaking for a $2.7 million project that will make some critical, much-needed changes, said Betsy Pye, president of the Ladies’ Branch of the New Bedford Port Society.

The most dramatic improvement will be the addition of a glass hallway to connect the buildings and provide a place to install an elevator to make it handicapped accessible. Pye recollected that when she was married in the Bethel, the lack of an elevator made it impossible for some of her guests to make it up the stairs to the chapel.

The new elevator, connected to the inconspicuous glass hallway at the rear of the buildings, and not to the buildings directly, will solve that problem for both buildings.

The unwelcome cold, raw weather, a broken ceremonial shovel and a caterer who arrived late didn’t dampen the enthusiasm and pride on the part of those who had a part in the project.

According to Port Society treasurer Bruce Oliveira, the group has raised all but $275,000 of the $2.7 million cost of the project, and will make one final push to put it over the finish line.

Mayor Jon Mitchell, whose grandfather was lost at sea on a fishing boat and whose name is on the wall of the Bethel, remarked on how central the Bethel and Mariners’ Home are to the character of the city. “These are important structures to our city and our city’s identity,” he said. “We have a proud and deep affection for the place. When we take people from out of town to show them the place we gravitate to this general area,” he said. “These buildings say a lot about our people, what we honor and what we treasure.”

When the project is complete in several months, the first floor of the Mariners Home will be the location of a fishing museum curated by the New Bedford Whaling Museum, one of the partners in the restoration project.

The second floor will house the offices of WHALE, the Waterfront Historic Area League, whose executive director of two years, Teri Bernert, was credited for being the catalyst that made the development of the project so successful.

Port Society President Fred Toomey along with Oliveira heaped praise on the Ladies Branch, the major donors, the Whaling Museum and WHALE.

Follow Steve Urbon on Twitter @SteveUrbonSCT.

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