Univ. Offers Detailed Plans for Expanded Allston Community Programming, Facility

Robert A. Lue, director of the Harvard Allston Education Portal, unveiled on Wednesday detailed plans for a new facility that will house much of the “transformative” programming promised last fall for the community as a part of the University’s institutional master plan for Allston.

Speaking at a meeting of the Harvard-Allston Task Force, Lue said the facility, to be located at 224 Western Ave., will include open, flexible-use space that can accommodate performing arts events, an innovation studio, or “iStudio,” locations for mentoring individual students or small groups, and an art gallery.

The space will be designed by the same company that constructed the Harvard i-Lab and is scheduled to open in February.

Lue, who is also the director of HarvardX and a professor of the practice of molecular and cellular biology, said he believes the project “resets the notion of what a communal space can be for a neighborhood.” While walking through digital floor plans, he teared up, explaining that this project will be the first of its kind in the world.

“Allston will be the beacon,” he said, for other cities interested in similar projects, including Paris, Beijing, and Mexico City. Lue said he will be visiting those cities in coming months to discuss similar projects.

Lue emphasized the portal’s commitment both to its existing mentoring programs for young people in Allston run through the Ed Portal, as well as its new adult-oriented programs like course material developed by Harvard’s schools specifically for the portal.

“Why is it that you go to school [when you are young] and you feast on learning, and then you leave school and you starve?” he asked. “We don’t want to make something that only serves some of the community.”

The project is a large piece of the community benefits package agreed upon last fall as a part of Harvard’s ten-year institutional master plan, which outlines the University's expansion in Allston. The package, worth $43 million, earmarked $8.3 million for the creation of a “transformative project” the details of which have emerged in recent months.

Kevin Casey, Harvard's associate vice president for public affairs and communications, added that the University would hire consultants to carry out “aggressive marketing to penetrate ethnic and cultural communities that we may be missing” before the space celebrates its grand opening.

While many Allston residents voiced skepticism during previous task force meetings of the vague language originally describing the transformative project, members of both the task force and the community at large who attended Wednesday night’s meeting were very supportive of the plans Lue presented.

“I think it was terrific,” lifelong Allston resident Paula M. Alexander said about Lue’s presentation. She also said that she had faith in Lue as the program’s director.

“This blows my mind,” Ray V. Mellone, the chairman of the task force, said. “This is the best thing Harvard ever did and will ever do for our neighborhood.”

—Staff writer Marco J. Barber Grossi can be reached at mbarbergrossi@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @marco_jbg.

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