Will A $20 Million Renovation Project Fix All The Problems?

At Home in Peabody Terrace. Residents Ask:

Sally J. Walker is like a lot of people who live in the river-front graduate housing complexes called Peabody Terrace.

A student at the Graduate School of Education, Walker moved to the terraces because of what she now calls a "housing crunch." She lives in a two-bedroom apartment with her daughter and roommate Tom Hunsdorfer.

Peabody did have several advantages, says Walker, including day care services provided at the terraces, says Walker.

"I applied to six day care centers in the area for my daughter, and Peabody was the only one that had room for her," Walker says. "We had to live here in order to use the day care services."

But Peabody has its disadvantages.

From the beginning, says Walker, the terraces have been plagued by recurring maintenance problems. She says her living quarters at various times experienced a leaking roof, flooding and constant noise from other units.

Walker, like many residents, has complained, but while repair experts often came quickly, many of the most basic problems were never fixed.

For example, Walker points to a wall in one of her apartment's bedrooms, which suffers from water damage that Walker believes was caused by a leaking roof. She has been reimbursed for the damage the leaking caused to her personal property, but the wall has not yet been repaired.

Peabody Terrace is a part of Harvard rarely seen by undergraduates. Located next to Mather House between the Charles River and Banks Street, the terraces are principally used to house graduate students, although the College places some undergraduate transfers there.

According to Susan K. Keller, who oversees the Peabody complexes for Harvard Real Estate (HRE), 80 percent of residents are students. The apartments' population has a strong international element. Keller says 65 percent of residents hail from foreign countries.

Three-fourths of the rooms, which come unfurnished, are occupied by families. Pamella Cornell, superintendent for the complexes, says all three terrace buildings have a family atmosphere.

"There is a baby-sitting pool, and there is a day care center available until age five," Cornell says. "This is a place for folks who have kids."

But problems such as those described by Walker take away from the Peabody Terrace living experience. Harvard Real Estate officials say that because of such complaints, they will begin a renovation of the terraces on June 15. It will be the first retooling of the Peabody Terrace since they were built in 1963.

Each summer for the next three years, one third of the 498 units will undergo renovations. The first phase of the $20 million project will be to make adjustments to all 174 units in one of the three complexes over a two-and-a-half month period.

Many residents are optimistic that the changes will improve their living environment, but after years of living in shoddy apartments, some are not sure the proposed building changes will fix all the problems they experience.