After more than a year of debate over community benefits, Harvard and the city of Boston finally signed the cooperation agreement that will allow them to break ground on a four-building science complex, the first piece of the University’s expansion into Allston.
The agreement, which outlines how Harvard will spend nearly $25 million on benefits to the neighborhood, is a legally-binding document. Some of the benefits the University will provide the neighborhood with over the next decade include an education center, public realm improvements, and workforce development programs.
Several months have passed since Harvard issued a draft of the cooperation agreement to the Harvard Allston Task Force, but the document remains essentially unchanged, said University’s Chief Operating Officer for the Allston Development Group Christopher M. Gordon.
Gordon, who signed the final document two weeks ago, said it includes more precise time frames for the implementation of benefits as well as more specific numbers on the costs of various programs.
“The last few months have been spent mostly crossing t’s and dotting i’s,” Gordon said. “We wanted to use this document as a reference for the future cooperation agreements, so we wanted to make sure that we had time to fine-tune the document.”
In September, the University plans to submit an institutional master plan that will outline development plans for the next 50 years. A community benefits plan will need to accompany this document.
Harvard Allston Task Force member Harry Mattison said that he was disappointed with the lack of change between the last cooperation agreement presented to the community and the final document signed by Harvard.
“People thought that when it went into hibernation for four months that there would be some major changes when it came back out,” said Mattison. “But now, we’re looking at an essentially identical document, although the neighborhood has already felt the effects of Harvard’s construction.”
Boston Redevelopment Authority spokeswoman Jessica Shumaker, however, said that the signing of the cooperation agreement represented progress for town-gown relations in Allston.
“Harvard is going to have to fulfill what is in the agreement, and the community will now see many of these things that they have been promised finally come to fruition,” said Shumaker, whose organization oversees development projects for Boston.
Within the cooperation agreement benefits package, $4.7 million dollars are devoted to education, and at the request of the Task Force, Harvard has agreed to build and maintain a 3,400 square foot “Edu-portal” to house programs for school-age children attending local schools.
More recently, Harvard said it will establish the Harvard Allston Partnership Fund, which will allocate half a million dollars in grants over the next five years to neighborhood improvement, health, and education initiatives.
But Mattison said he was still unimpressed with Harvard’s efforts to work with the community, citing the Charlesview relocation project—an ongoing subject of negotiations between Harvard and the community since 2003—as evidence of the University’s disinterest in building community relations.
“It’s a huge project and Harvard’s bending over backwards to refuse to have any involvement in planning it,” Mattison said. “Until we see Harvard cooperating on a project like that with the neighborhood, it’s hard to feel like there’s any cooperation happening at all.”
—Staff writer Nan Ni can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org