Allston Residents Question Harvard's Commitment to Science Complex

When Leonard W. Kelliher was a boy, the five-acre plot off Western Avenue in Allston facing the back of Harvard Business School was a driving range.

“I used to pick up golf balls there for 10 cents a bucket,” Kelliher said. But that was 60 years ago, and the face of the neighborhood has since changed.

At Allston Work Team Co-chair Bill Purcell’s monthly coffee hour yesterday morning, a dozen Allston residents asked if they could ever expect to see the $1 billion Science Complex Harvard had intended to build on the site and if so, when.

Construction on the Science Complex was indefinitely halted in Dec. 2009 due to financial constraints, and the land is now a paved-over, eight-ton steel foundation, surrounded by a wooden fence and some greenery.

Allston resident Paul “Chip” Alfred referred to the concrete layer covering the foundation as “a sarcophagus,” and suggested it signaled, if not the projects’ death, the University is not planning to resume work on the site anytime soon.

Purcell said he could not provide a timeline for Harvard’s construction the Science Complex site, nor was he certain exactly what shape it would take, as the University is still exploring possibilities which would take into account both its financial constraints and academic priorities.

Purcell did not say whether the site would still be used for science-related purposes.

“We are looking at all of the possibilities and opportunities that might be out there,” he said. “Our commitment to science stays at the front, our commitment here and in the university generally, but as far as all the options that might be available, I think we’re still receiving information and advice."

“Is this [the Science Complex] still Harvard’s number one priority for development?” asked Allston Resident Michael Hanlon.

Purcell did not answer the question, but said Harvard’s presence in Allston was his number one priority as Work Team Co-Chair.

“It’s a critically important part of Harvard’s future, the largest area for Harvard as it moves into the century ahead is here,” Purcell said.

Two of Harvard’s real estate consultants attended the meeting to listen to community concerns, which they said would help inform their work advising the Work Team.

—Staff writer Sofia E. Groopman can be reached at segroopm@fas.harvard.edu.

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