Three years after Harvard began a mentoring program to rebuild bridges with the Allston community, the University is nearing completion of an expansion that will offer the neighborhood new services from batting cages to a mini-golf course to a small library.
The University started work on a 9,000 square foot annex to the Harvard Education Portal this summer, and doors are now slated to open early next year, according to officials.
The annex, located on 175 North Harvard Street, will expand the Ed Portal’s hours and cater to community members beyond the mostly middle school-age students who use the existing facility for mentoring and tutoring from Harvard undergraduates in math, science, writing, and public speaking.
The program has been hailed as a success by both Harvard administrators and Allston residents, who have had a tense relationship with the University over Harvard’s stalled development plans.
“Anything they do to expand [the program] is just adding to a great idea,” said Paul Berkeley, president of the Allston Civic Association and a sometime critic of the University.
Harvard officials said the expansion was aimed at expanding beyond academic offerings to include more recreational opportunities for a broader range of age groups.
“We’ve reached a point at the [Ed] Portal where clearly there’s such additional potential for other things that we can do,” said the Ed Portal’s faculty director and founder, Robert A. Lue.
Until recently, the annex was an underutilized warehouse space. But over the summer, the University built a storage closet and side classroom in the space and spruced up the building’s gray walls with tangerine, periwinkle, and lime green paint. The annex will be finished in late January or early February, officials said.
“We tried to make [the space] as flexible as possible”, said Director of Community Planning Maile Takahashi.
While the portal is typically open four days a week from Monday to Thursday, the annex will allow activities to be extended throughout the weekend.
The new annex represents a continuation of Harvard’s community outreach following the halt of construction on the Allston Science Complex in Dec. 2009 due to financial constraints, a move that angered neighbors. At the time, the University sought to placate residents with a series of community development projects, including a popular temporary mini-golf course, which will be resurrected in the annex as a way to teach members about physics, geometry, and “hand-eye coordination,” Lue said.
Lue said he views the project as a “sandbox”—an experimental space “where we can play with and develop a new paradigm.”
Ranvir S. Dhillon ’13, who has been mentoring at the portal six hours a week for the past three semesters, said he is excited about the new space.
“We’ll be able to do a lot more with mentees than we can now in just a classroom,” said Dhillon, who hosts the Ed Portal’s Science Club each week. “Students can get a lot more out of it.”
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