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.

The buildings will not receive the complete overhaul that first-year students witnessed this year in Weld and Matthews Halls. And despite residents' concerns about the structural integrity of their living quarters, the project will focus on just a few trouble spots that can be traced to flaws in the original design.

Other residents say that although they are pleased with Peabody because of its convenience, they were forced to make repeated maintenance complaints, some of which will not be addressed during the three-year repair cycle.

And some say they do not believe the changes selected by Harvard Real Estate will address other structural problems, such as Walker's leaking roof, which they have had with the apartments.

Keller says the only structural change that will be made will be new plumbing because of time constraints. Historically, tenants have complained most often about the plumbing system.

Maria V. Mauroudi, a Peabody resident and a student at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, says she had to call on a regular basis to have her pipes cleaned.

"I used to call them every one-and-a-half to two months to have them unclog the pipes," Mauroudi says.

In a January 8 letter to Vice President for Administration Sally H. Zeckhauser, Nancy Hurley, who lived at Peabody Terrace until this year, complained of pigeon feces on the balcony of her apartment.

Hurley wrote, "Our balcony [was] rendered unusable by the accumulation of pigeon feces (which we could only get adequately cleaned up after the city health inspector issued Harvard a citation)."

A copy of the citation obtained by The Crimson indicates the pigeon feces were removed.

Hurley also wrote that garbage frequently came up her drain into the bathtub, and this plumbing problem was never fixed.

"My family and I moved several months ago, partly because of the type of health code violations you see in the pictures, partly because I could not, on my support-staff salary from Harvard, afford the extortionate rent Harvard charged me and my husband," Hurley wrote.

Zeckhauser, Cornell and Keller have all said they were aware of the pigeon problem.

But, as Zeckhauser added, "[we] don't know what to do about the pigeons." Cornell, who is responsible for responding to tenants complaints, said that it is illegal to kill the pigeons.

Instead, she said, the only legal way to ameliorate the problem is to discourage the pigeons from returning. Desperate exterminators have even used glue to trap one pigeon to the railing in order to warn away other birds.

Harvard Real Estate and other administrators have long been aware of these problems. But the renovation process will be slow. And that means some residents of Peabody will remain mired in conditions like Walker's until the renovations are complete in the fall of 1995.

On a tour given by four Harvard Real Estate representatives last week, the Crimson was shown both currently utilized units and two prototypes for the renovated units. Keller, Cornell, HRE communications Director Dianne Dyslin and HRE Director Kristin S. Demong guided the tour through the three 22-story buildings.

The occupied units shown during the tour demonstrated the effect of thirty years of wear. The tiled floors were cracked and flaking. The painting, although redone between occupants, had developed jagged cracks. A draft blew through ill-fitting windows, and most of the lighting came from outside.

One room, meant to be a one-person studio, had a cot behind a four-foot tall wall of partitions where the occupant's son slept.

Harvard Real Estate has presented an ambitious plan to fix these long-standing problems. Keller, the Terrace's manager, says the project has three goals: first, to make the kitchen and storage space "feel more like the '90's;" second, to increase livable space; and finally, to repair the plumbing system that has suffered from years of coping with disposal systems it was not designed to handle.

According to Keller, each individual unit will undergo changes in five areas that were identified with the help of a council of tenants as problem areas.

*New kitchen cabinets will be installed, along with new countertops. Refrigerators will be moved into nearby closets to make more space in the kitchen, and general cabinets will be added in the remaining closet space.

*A boudoir will be added to the bedrooms to better utilize a heating element already in place.

*The bathroom walls will be re-tiled and new medicine cabinets will be added.

*All floors will be re-tiled.

*The windows, which have been described by tenants as "causing drafts and sticky" will be replaced by double-paned storm windows.

Keller says the speed of the renovations was one of the main factors in determining which changes would be made. She says the six groups hired by Barr & Barr Contractors will work on the project simultaneously so all the rooms can be completed before new tenants arrive in September.

Barr & Barr would not comment on the job for this story.

According to Keller, the contractors have timed every procedure that will be part of the renovation in order to minimize the amount of time the units are off the market.

"We are working in a very small time frame," Keller says. "We want to have the units ready for next year's residents in September."

Since there is a limited amount of time to effect the changes, certain furnishings, including the kitchen cabinets, were selected because they could be installed quickly.

H R E ' s Demong, says the main goal of the renovations was to limit costs on repairing the building. She says the costly expenditures on repairs must not affect the rental costs.

"These properties have prices that are market driven," Demong says. "Rents by and large reflect Cambridge market. The cost of renovation has to be kept down so that the units are affordable."

Demong says during the period of the renovation, the rents for the unrenovated units will not change, while the renovated units will reflect market price. Demong estimates the increase will be about 10 percent above present rates.

According to residents, Peabody's problems are made bearable by Cornell, who is herself a resident at the apartment complex. Residents say complaints made to the superintendent's office are often mer with responses within a few hours, and always within one working day.

Ed M. Rodriguez, a Business School student and Terrace resident, says he had pipe problems but had no trouble getting repairs.

"[I've had] little plumbing problems, backed up pipes. Fixing is pretty quick," he says.

Lydia H. Loayza, who lives in a two-bedroom apartment at Peabody Terrace with her husband and children, said she was impressed with the maintenance for the rooms.

"If I have a problem, they fix it immediately. They fix everything," she says. "I am very happy, it is very clean."

Education School student Walker says she has nothing but praise for Cornell.

"The super, Pam Cornell, is terrified she says. "Because of her, she makes living here a good experience."

We want to have the units ready for next year's residents in September.

Susan K. Keller, Assistant Vice President of Resident Housing

'Our balcony [was] rendered unusable by the accumulation of pigeon feces (which we could only get adequately cleaned up after the city health inspector issued Harvard a citation).'

From a letter to Vice President for Administration Sally H. Zeckhauser, written by Nancy Hurley, former Peabody Terrace resident