Allston Locals Praise Harvard

Residents appreciate community benefits, especially education portal

CORRECTIONS APPENDED

While recent Harvard Allston Task Force meetings have been dominated by heated discussions of the University’s vacant neighborhood properties, last night’s meeting took on a decidedly more subdued tone, with local residents cautiously praising the University for its progress in delivering community benefits over the past year.

Maile Takahashi, senior community planner for the Allston Development Group, presented a synopsis of Harvard’s first annual report on the Allston Science Complex Cooperation Agreement signed one year ago. The agreement required the University to provide $25 million worth of neighborhood benefits in order to proceed with construction.

The report, which was posted on the ADG’s Web site last Tuesday, detailed the University’s public improvement work, local educational partnerships, and workforce development programs.

The Harvard Allston Education Portal, which opened in June of last year and provides science, math, and writing enrichment for local youth, was particularly lauded by community members. Edward A. Kotomori, a local resident, said that both parents and children have expressed appreciation for the program.

“If I were a boss, I’d make sure that you got a good raise,” Kotomori said to Takahashi. “You’re doing a terrific job.”

The meeting also focused on Harvard’s progress in designing Library Park, which is slated to open in 2011 and will be located behind the Honan-Allston Library. Project manager Dennis Swinford presented the current concept designs and said that the Boston Redevelopment Authority had hired landscaping firm Michael Van Valkenburg Associates to develop construction documents, which should be available by the year’s end. [SEE CORRECTIONS BELOW] He said that while a contractor for construction has not yet been hired, construction should begin next spring.

Despite the less heated tone of the meeting, local concerns about Harvard’s vacant property holdings in Allston continued to simmer.

At the previous Task Force meeting on March 25, University officials had presented a map detailing Harvard’s property holdings in Allston and their current occupancy status, but local residents asked Harvard to come back and provide the information in a list format. Tensions briefly flared last night when local resident Paul Alford noted that a property list distributed to meeting attendees by Chief University Planner Kathy A. Spiegelman failed to include the requested occupancy information.

While Spiegelman initially replied that it would not be productive to discuss each property’s leasing situation individually with the community, she later agreed to provide a new list including the occupancy information displayed on the map.

Task force member and local resident Harry Mattison had also raised concerns after last week’s meeting that Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino was no longer holding firm to his requests for Harvard to provide more detailed information and plans regarding its science complex construction slowdown. Menino had sent a letter to University President Drew G. Faust in late February with specific dates for information requests, most within 30 to 60 days.

But Michael F. Glavin, the BRA’s deputy director for institutional development, said that the Mayor has the right to grant some flexibility in the specific deadlines, provided that real progress is being made on the issues listed in his letter, and that Harvard is acting in good faith within a reasonable time frame.

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

CORRECTIONS

The April 7 news article "Allston Locals Praise Harvard" misspelled the name of the landscaping firm hired to develop construction documents for Library Park. The firm's name is Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, not Michael Van Valkenburg Associates.

The article also incorrectly stated that the construction firm had been hired by the Boston Redevelopment Authority. In fact, Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates was hired by Harvard.