Harvard Presents Allston Updates

As Harvard moves forward in its planning for Allston, the University updated community members on its progress at a Harvard-Allston Task Force meeting on Monday. But the announcement elicited much skepticism from residents, who said they felt the update lacked crucial details and a sufficient commitment from the University.

“It is unacceptable that Harvard is coming to us with a third major proposal and not committing to a time-frame for the science project,” said Cathleen Campbell, a Task Force member and Allston resident. “We have approved the I-Lab, Tata Hall, and now they’re saying that they want to do another project in our community without a time frame when it’s been four years.”

At the meeting, Kevin Casey, the University’s senior director of federal and state relations, informed residents that Harvard is in the midst of academic and logistical planning for resuming construction on its Western Ave. science center. Casey also told community members that the University is currently searching for a third-party developer to construct faculty and graduate housing in Barry’s Corner.

In 2007, Harvard began construction on the Allston Science Complex, a one billion dollar science complex that was envisioned to be, among other things, a mecca for stem cell research. At that time, the University said that it would also create a “main street” on Western Ave.—two prospects that excited many residents.

But the University’s relations with the neighborhood across the Charles took a turn for the worse when Harvard halted construction on the Allston Science Complex in Dec. 2009 due to financial constraints during the economic crisis.

Casey said that University plans to make a final decision on a private development partner for Barry’s Corner in mid-March and will present a more detailed plan for the science center by the end of the academic year.

Throughout the meeting, Task Force members and residents asked for a project time line and a firm promise that the University would not halt construction again. Casey asked for residents’ patience and active participation in selecting a third party developer.

Many residents said they were hesitant to commit an extensive amount of time to another joint planning process after their original plans were not realized.

In an email after the meeting, Casey stressed that Harvard has already dedicated “significant resources” to its science center in Allston.

“[T]his building will represent the single largest investment in a science facility ever made by the university, and the biggest investment in science space envisioned for at least the next decade, if not longer,” Casey wrote. “It is critical that we get it right.”

Residents asked the Boston Redevelopment Authority representatives present at the meeting to secure a commitment from the University.

BRA Chief Planner Kairos Shen said that Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino is committed to ensuring that Harvard follows through on its promises to the Allston community.

“The mayor has two priorities: One is to finish the science center and the second is to develop some of this land over the next two years so that it can help our economic recovery as a city as a whole,” Shen said, adding that Menino has held regular meetings with Harvard administrators.

“If, in October of this year, you are still not satisfied with what the University is telling you about the Science Complex, I guarantee you the mayor won’t be satisfied,” Shen said.

As the meeting drew to a close, Task Force member Harry E. Mattison questioned the effectiveness of previous planning efforts and asked if residents can expect to see “actual shovels in the ground” in the near future.

“Harry, the planning we’ve done led to the approval of Stone Hearth Pizza and Swiss Bakers,” Shen said. “How much we can get done is dependent on how much we can work together. We are humbly asking more of you to sit through more of these so that we can get it right.”

—Staff writer Mercer R. Cook can be reached at mcook@college.harvard.edu.

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