Harvard To Delay Allston Construction

Economic slowdown causes University to reevaluate expansion plans

CORRECTION APPENDED

Harvard will slow construction on its much-touted Allston Science Complex for the remainder of the year due to financial pressures and an unprecedented drop in the endowment, University President Drew G. Faust announced yesterday.

While the science complex’s foundation will be completed at a slower pace by the end of the year, Faust said University planners would conduct a detailed cost analysis to determine at the end of 2009 whether to proceed with current construction plans, reconfigure the building to cut costs, or halt work entirely.

The science complex—a core component of the University’s ambitious plans to build a new campus across the Charles River—was heralded as a hub for interdisciplinary science, originally due to be completed in 2011.

The University will temporarily house the building’s planned tenants—the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, a University bioengineering institute, and the Medical School’s systems biology department—in alternative renovated spaces in Cambridge and Longwood.

The announcement comes amidst what Faust called “the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression” and follows months of University deliberation over its operating expenses and capital projects. Harvard has asked schools to institute a salary freeze for faculty and non-union staff and recently announced that it would offer some staff over the age of 55 buyout packages in an effort to reduce costs.

The slowdown will result in a halt in procurement of materials for future construction phases, as well as a possible reduction in the number of workers on-site towards the end of the year, according to University spokeswoman Lauren M. Marshall.

Faust added Harvard will also slow planning for the rest of its Allston construction—which has been slated to occur over a 50-year time span. She said that Harvard will deliver on its previously agreed-upon community benefits, as well as “develop options for interim improvements to [its] existing properties”—which some local residents say Harvard has left undeveloped to Allston’s detriment.

Harry Mattison, an Allston resident and a member of the Harvard Allston Task Force, said he was wary of Faust’s overtures in the letter.

“If Faust says they’re going to do a better job this year, I’ll look forward to seeing that,” Mattison said. “But the proof will be in the pudding. Right now it’s just words on a page.”

He added that he has not been pleased “with Harvard going on a buying binge” for property, and that Harvard has thus far “failed miserably to attract new businesses” for Allston.

But other task force members said the slowdown in construction may offer a rare opportunity for planners to sort through a queue of community concerns that have been overshadowed by the science complex’s construction. City officials had accelerated approval for the science complex construction plans after University officials said the unique and urgent research being conducted in areas such as stem cell biology merited a faster timeline.

“We got rushed into a lot of these agendas because of the timetable being set for [the science complex],” said Ray Mellone, chair of the task force. “But if that slows down, it gives us more time to deal with [community concerns]. We need a little bit of a breather, and that’s what we’re going to get.”

Meanwhile, those programs originally planning for a 2011 move to Allston have been scrambling to find temporary housing in existing University facilities.

The Department of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology, which had been informed by University administrators in January that it might need to reconsider its Allston plans, has decided to move first into vacant office space in the Northwest building and eventually to a renovated Sherman-Fairchild building, according to department co-chair David T. Scadden. [SEE CORRECTION BELOW]

“I’m hoping this isn’t going to be too disruptive for my colleagues,” Scadden said.

Scadden said he expects his department to relocate to Fairchild by 2011 at the latest.

“Having a single geographic home—that will be a big step forward for us,” Scadden said, adding that it would be a marked improvement from the department’s current quarters.

The recently chartered Wyss Institute for bioengineering will move its laboratories into now empty floors in the Harvard Institute of Medicine Building within the next two months, while the systems biology department will remain in Longwood, according to the programs’ administrators.

—Staff writer June Q. Wu can be reached at junewu@fas.harvard.edu.

—Staff writer Peter F. Zhu can be reached at pzhu@fas.harvard.edu.

CORRECTION

The Feb. 19 news article "Harvard To Delay Allston Construction" incorrectly stated that the Department of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology would first move into vacant office space in the Northwest building before moving to a renovated Sherman-Fairchild building. In fact, department co-chair David T. Scadden said the department will move directly to Sherman-Fairchild, instead of moving to Northwest first.