Allston Work Team Seeks to Develop Allston Campus Despite Construction Halt

Harvard looks for creative ways to use vacant properties in Allston

Roughly three months since University President Drew G. Faust charged a newly created Work Team with recommending strategies for Harvard’s expansion into Allston, team members have started to make progress on exploring ways to use the University’s vacant property holdings in Allston.

In the past month, the Work Team—created shortly after the University announced that it would halt construction indefinitely on the Allston Science Complex due to financial constraints—has met with local community leaders and government officials to discuss Harvard’s immediate and future role in developing the Allston campus despite a drastically altered financial landscape.

At the Work Team’s suggestion, Harvard opened a free indoor ice skating rink on the site of Allston’s old Volkswagon dealership in January, Executive Vice President Katherine N. Lapp, who oversees the University’s capital planning functions, said the University continues to look for novel ways of using vacant properites.

Going forward, Lapp said Harvard may continue development on the Science Complex with other academic institutions and other organizations.

“We’re doing a lot of work on that front, working with the provost and others to identify the academic priorities of Harvard and what might make sense in terms of building Allston and where partnering with some institutions might make financial sense as well,” Lapp said yesterday.

The 14-member Work Team is led by Harvard Business School’s Senior Associate Dean for Planning and University Affairs Peter Tufano ’79, Director of the Institute of Politics Bill Purcell, and Graduate School of Design Professor Alex Krieger.

Purcell empahsized that unlike committees or blue ribbon commissions, the Work Team’s progress is not defined by a specific time frame.

Instead, Purcell said, the team aims to focus on effecting change in the short and long term.

“If there’s something that can be done without knowing all of the answers for even the midterm then we should go ahead now if we can and make that recommendations as quickly as we know the answer,” Purcell said.

Since its creation, the team has met with members of the Harvard Allston Task force, a group appointed by Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino, as well as local government officials, and Purcell described these discussions as fruitful and informative.

“These are the people who live with the neighborhood and community issues every day and every night and to know where they were and have a sense of their feelings about Harvard at this time was critically important to me,” Purcell said.

But Purcell acknowledged that at this point, there remain many unanswered questions.

“We all have questions,” Purcell said. “The good news is that there’s a real sense of optimism about our ability to answer those questions.”

Harvard Allston Task Force chair Ray Mellone agreed that last week’s meeting had been “a pretty good conversation.”

“Everybody that was anybody was at that meeting, you can’t do any better than that,” Mellone said.

He added that he hoped the University would continue further involvement with the community.

“We’re hoping for productive and meaningful collaboration in the future,” Mellone said.

But Task Force member Bruce Houghton said that while he thought the meeting was “very nice,” it was too early to tell what the Work Team’s efforts will result in.

“The proof is in the pudding, maybe they’ll do nothing,” he said.

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

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