Start Date Maintained For House Renewal

Despite the economy, administrators anticipate construction in 2012

The College administration renewed its commitment yesterday to begin physical renovations in the upperclassman Houses by 2012, despite University-wide budget cutbacks that have recently made the future of the sweeping $1 billion Capital Renewal project uncertain.

Dean of the Office of Student Life Suzy M. Nelson said that the University is currently in the “fluid and inexpensive” stage of drafting blueprints for the House renewal project, an undertaking that will require a complete conceptual and structural redesign of Harvard’s decades-old residential House system.

“Last year we were in a place where we were planning and designing,” Nelson said. “We weren’t ready to build. We anticipate actual construction for 2012 and I think we should keep talking about this date.”

In April 2008, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Michael D. Smith announced that the University would embark on the 15-year-long endeavor, which Nelson later characterized as a transformational modernization of residential life. They said it would entail gutting each of the Houses and reconstructing their interiors to take into consideration student needs ranging from increased privacy to the availability of social spaces.

The Report on Harvard House Renewal, a 112-page document of residential recommendations released in April, suggested additions like theatres, gyms, and grilles to foster greater inter-House community.

In 2008, a presentation by planners from the firm Einhorn Yaffee Prescott Architecture and Engineering suggested that the new buildings could feature state-of-the-art technologies that would make both the neo-Georgian and more modern Houses ecologically efficient with facilities that contribute less to Harvard’s carbon footprint.

But after convening a handful of focus groups and student-faculty committee meetings and conducting student surveys last year, the University has not presented any concrete plans for House renewal beyond the broad recommendations included in April’s report.

With less than three years until the anticipated construction date, Nelson acknowledged that several considerations have yet to be addressed—including the need to identify potential temporary housing for undergraduates displaced by construction.

“We do know that if we take an entire house off, we will have to relocate students,” Nelson said. “We do know that that’s a need, but we don’t know how we’re going to do it.”

The University currently faces an unprecedented 30-percent loss in the value of its endowment. When the renovation plan was first announced in 2008, the endowment was valued at about $37 billion. The endowment is currently valued at $26 billion.

—Staff writer Bita M. Assad can be reached at bassad@fas.harvard.edu.

—Staff writer Ahmed N. Mabruk can be reached at amabruk@fas.harvard.edu.