Allston Funds May Be Diverted

As Harvard’s schools debate budget cuts, Allston residents face the possibility that funds previously reserved for the University’s expansion plans could be diverted to yet-to-be-determined projects.

Since 2001, the strategic infrastructure fund—a 0.5 percent levy on the endowment of all of Harvard’s schools—has set aside money for financing projects in Allston.

The fund contained $140.5 million as of 2007, according to Harvard Magazine.

But in light of considering departmental budget cuts of 10 to 15 percent, faculty members—often critics of the fund—brought up the idea of reassessing this costly financing of Allston.

Chairman of the Harvard Allston Task Force Ray Mellone said that he is prepared for changes in the speed of the University’s plans, as well as changes to the implementation of community benefits.

“If Harvard can’t have their expansion at the same rate we were thinking about two or three months ago, then of course the amount of benefits is going to have to slow down as well,” said Mellone.

He added that this slowdown may be beneficial to the detail of the community planning process.

In an interview yesterday, University President Drew G. Faust said that the timeline in Allston has changed.

“I’m sure that what we thought we might do in the next decade is going to take longer,” Faust said, adding that since her Nov. 10 letter about the impact of the financial crisis on Harvard, the University has been assessing a number of its plans.

“One of the things we’ll be looking at really hard is Houses,” she said, referring to the undergraduate Houses projected to be built in Allston. “Do we want them? And secondly can we afford them, and how many?”

As the University debates these questions, some Allston residents are criticizing Harvard for buying property in Allston and then letting it sit vacant.

Currently, Harvard owns more land on the other side of the river—350 acres in Allston—than it owns in Cambridge—225 acres.

“The last thing that we want is for Harvard to slow down and to stop developing its property in Allston,” said Task Force member Harry Mattison. “If Harvard owns these properties and really can’t afford to improve them, they should sell them to someone who can.”

Mattison suggested that Harvard think of creative temporary uses for the land—rather than leaving it undeveloped—as it continues to draft plans. “Seeing these empty buildings continuing to sit empty will only cause more dissatisfaction,” he said.

He also criticized Harvard for not being clear about whether it is going to submit its final master plan to the city in a few months.

Graduate School of Design professor Alex Krieger, who has been involved in Allston planning in the past, said it was natural that the expansion project bear some of the brunt of the current financial stress on Harvard.

“I’m not surprised that this is emerging as an idea,” Krieger said. “I don’t see it as a crisis at the moment for Allston.”

—Staff Writer Vidya B. Viswanathan can be reached at viswanat@fas.