Quincy Groundbreaking Marks the Beginning of Renewal

Sporting bright yellow foam construction hats stamped with a penguin, residents of Quincy House marked Harvard’s symbolic transition from planning to the implementation stage of the College-wide House renovation project at Old Quincy’s groundbreaking ceremony Wednesday evening.

With the Harvard Band playing in the background, Harvard administrators and Quincy residents enjoyed an outdoor barbeque with cake and a special photobooth provided by Harvard.

Top administrators, Quincy House Masters Lee and Deborah J. Gehrke, the Quincy House Committee co-chairs, and two Quincy alumni dug their shovels into a small cleared area of the Quincy courtyard.

“At last we’ve reached the day when we take an initial and very tangible step toward renewing the Harvard undergraduate Houses,” Lee Gehrke said to the crowd.

During the ceremony, administrators acknowledged the inconveniences that the impending start of construction on Old Quincy will pose for the Quincy House community, but still expressed optimism about the House renewal process.

“We’re ready to go. We’re ready to move ahead,” Lee Gehrke said after the ceremony.

Shortly after Commencement, demolition on the interior of Old Quincy will begin, launching the first stage of a year-long construction process expected to conclude in June 2013.

In their speech, Quincy House Committee Co-chairs, Catherine G. Katz ’13 and Scott J. Yim '13 said that the construction’s finished product—which will include horizontal hallways and an underground common room with access to an outdoor terrace—would ultimately bring students closer together.

“Despite the temporary challenges renovation will bring to our community in the next year, we are confident that our House life and spirit will remain as strong as ever,” Yim said.

For much of the next year, Quincy courtyard will be divided by a wall separating the construction zone from New Quincy. Access from the gates of Quincy courtyard to Mill St. and DeWolfe St. will be restricted during parts of the process.

“It’s going to be disruptive,” Lee Gehrke said in an interview. “I think if we said there won’t be any problem at all, I think that would be just kind of ignoring what’s going on.”

In the past students have raised concerns about maintaining the quality of House community when Quincy residents are divided between New Quincy and what administrators call swing space—three apartment complexes located in Harvard Square.

Gehrke added that he is holding discussions with tutors in an effort to make “all Quincy students, especially the ones in swing space, feel included in everything” during the construction process. Planned initiatives include joint study breaks combining entryways in New Quincy and swing space, as well as social gatherings in the swing space conference rooms.

At the ceremony, Hammonds recounted the housing system’s history, emphasizing the developments and changes made throughout the decades since the new living arrangements were first implemented in the late 1920s. The housing systems in Oxford and Cambridge University inspired former university president Abbott Lawrence Lowell to reconsider the current arrangement set in place, which required some students to commute to school.

Hammonds said by keeping Old Quincy’s historical exterior and upgrading its interior Harvard is upholding Lowell’s original vision of fostering diverse communities.

During the ceremony, Gehrke reflected on the long planning process for the Old Quincy renovations, which began in 2006.

“As a result of attending innumerable meetings, we now know more about bathroom tiles, window panes, and shower ventilation than we ever imagined possible,” Gehrke joked.

Quincy is the first of Harvard’s twelve Houses to receive a face-lift—a project that administrators say will cost between $1 billion to $1.3 billion. Administrators have often described Old Quincy as the “test project” for future renovations. Leverett House’s McKinlock Hall is the next building slated to be upgraded.

—Staff writer Nathalie R. Miraval can be reached at nmiraval@college.harvard.edu.

—Staff writer Rebecca D. Robbins can be reached at rrobbins@college.harvard.edu.

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