Law School May Expand into Agassiz

Looking to alleviate an intense space crunch and fulfill a plan to stay competitive, Harvard Law School (HLS) administrators announced last week that they are considering building on four sites north of the Yard.

Tsoi, Kobus & Associates, a local real estate consulting firm, will coordinate a feasibility study of the school’s future construction, HLS administrators also announced at a meeting with neighbors from the Agassiz area of Cambridge.

Ed Tsoi, one of the founders of the firm and the lead consultant on the feasibility study, said several HLS-owned sites on Mass. Avenue are being examined—including a parking lot, four storefronts, two dormitories and two administrative buildings which he said “lend themselves to change.”

HLS officials at the meeting emphasized that all development proposals are in the very early stages.

“We’re not planning buildings at this time,” said HLS Dean of Administration Julie Englund.

HLS is a major candidate for relocation to the University’s undeveloped land across the river in Allston—a possibility that has drawn severe opposition from the school’s faculty.

Top University officials are expected to reach a decision about Allston in the coming months.

Tsoi said he needs to complete the feasibility study by the beginning of summer.

For now, administrators and the school’s consultants say, the school needs to grow in Cambridge whether or not its future lies across the river.

“It’s not likely that the entire law school can get over there in any sooner than 10 years,” Tsoi said. “That’s still a lot of time. Ten classes will have gone through the Law School.”

Story Professor of Law Daniel J. Meltzer, who is also an Agassiz resident, said HLS must grow in order to continue to attract students and faculty.

In 1999, McKinsey & Co. completed a study of HLS that recommended several changes to improve HLS students’ quality of life, including slashing class size and hiring more faculty to reduce the student-faculty ratio—proposals that require significant renovation and expansion.

“There was a general sense that the overall student experience wasn’t as good as it could be and should be,” Meltzer said. “We’re bursting at the seams on the academic side. Sometimes, it’s even tough to find a room for a committee meeting.”

But neighborhood residents expressed concern about long-term impacts of HLS development.

“It’s our belief that whatever Harvard builds now will set a precedent,” said Adriane Bishko, a member of the Agassiz Committee on the Impact of Development (ACID), a neighborhood group formed last year to take on Harvard construction.

Carol Wienhaus, one of three ACID members who specializes in dealing with the Law School, asked HLS officials to consider their development plans in the context of the rest of the neighborhood.

“Student experience is not just what happens in the classroom,” Weinhaus said. “It’s what happens when they empty out and they want something to eat at night.”

Agassiz residents expressed fears that new HLS buildings along Mass. Ave would result in what Weinhaus called “dead space”—areas next to buildings that either contribute nothing to neighborhood life or attract teenagers and criminals.

Tsoi, the consultant, spent almost an hour listening to neighborhood residents’ preferences and pitching ideas of his own.

The sites which administrators said they’re interested in developing include North Hall, a six-story dormitory with a parking lot, and the Everett Street Garage, a three-story concrete parking building.

The third parcel is a set of four storefronts—including Crimson Cleaners and Three Aces Pizza—on the corner of Mass. Avenue and Everett Street.

The final site includes two Victorian structures—the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute and Baker House, HLS’s legal aid office—and Wyeth Hall, a six-story red-brick dormitory.

Neighbors enthusiastically supported Tsoi’s suggestion that the Everett Street Garage be demolished and another parking facility be built underground to replace it.

“We begged you 10 years ago to sink it,” Weinhaus said regarding the garage, adding that the site’s location near subway tunnels had been HLS’s stated reason not to dig an underground garage in the past.

The approximately 16 residents’ other requests included improved lighting on streets, increased parking space, precautions against traffic jams during construction and more parks and other “public spaces.”

—Staff writer Alexander J. Blenkinsopp can be reached at blenkins@fas.harvard.edu.