Allston Wrangles with Budget

Unnamed photo
Halle K Phillips

Members of the Harvard Allston Task Force discuss budget allocation priorities last night at their meeting. Allston residents pushed for the funds to go predominantly to neighborhood issues.

Little progress was made in fleshing out how residents wish to allocate $21 million of University funds in community benefits at last night’s meeting of the Harvard Allston Task Force.

Issues of how the task force should be structured and how they would present future questions to the University sidetracked members from moving forward.

Boston Redevelopment Authority Senior Project Manager Gerald Autler urged the task force to come to some decisions on a critical chunk of the earmarked funds.

“I’d rather figure out how we’re going to put the flesh on the bones,” he said. “You can call it $15 million or $16 million, but it’s still millions of dollars that we need to figure out how to spend.”

Earlier this month, Boston granted Harvard approval for its 589,000-square-foot science complex, the first project to receive approval as a part of the University’s half-century expansion into the neighborhood.

But before the University can break ground on its project, they must fulfil a legal commitment to provide the Allston neighborhood with a specified package of benefits.

As Harvard moves closer to beginning construction, the task force has yet to prioritize neighborhood requests that they compiled last spring in a benefits matrix—requests that include art and music education programs for a local school and the expansion of neighborhood parks.

Currently, Harvard has proposed allocating the funds across four categories, including lifelong learning, economic and workforce development, physical enhancements, and the city’s housing trust fund.

But some task force members expressed concern about accepting Harvard’s proposal without articulating the priorities of the community.

“The current plan for community benefits as I understand it is Harvard’s proposal,” said Task Force member Brent Whelan. “They’re presenting things without a clear concept of where the community wants to go and how they want to go about it.”

The University has already committed itself to providing residents with free math and science tutoring, beginning this spring. Additionally, Harvard has already begun making physical improvements to the area, including repairing sidewalks along North Harvard Street and Western Avenue.

While residents argued over whether or not the entire $21 million would go into the neighborhood, Autler suggested that the task force re-implement issue-specific subcommittees so it can complete the discussion of community benefits by the end of the year.

Task Force member Paul Berkeley said after the meeting that although his committee had gotten bogged down in planning details in the past, he hoped they would be able to reorient their thinking towards community benefits.

“As I look back over the last year I think we’ve spent several meetings collectively talking about what we should be talking about instead of talking about it,” he said. “I hope we’ve gotten that out of our system.”

—Staff writer Laura A. Moore can be reached at lamoore@fas.harvard.edu.