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HMS 'New Research Building' Nameless After 15 Years

Harvard Medical School
The Gordon Hall of Medicine stands at the center of the Harvard Medical School's quadrangle.
As it enters its fifteenth year of operation, the Medical School’s New Research Building is long past new but has yet to be named after a donor or prominent graduate.

The building, located on the Medical School’s Longwood Campus in Boston, cost $260 million when it was completed in 2003.

This New Research Building is not Harvard’s first. In 1992, Harvard opened a $57 million facility with the same moniker, though that building earned a real name the next year in recognition of a $20 million gift from New York businessman Warren Alpert. While parts of the current New Research Building have been named after Medical School affiliates, the building itself still retains its original placeholder designation despite over a decade of use.

At the time, it was the largest structure Harvard had ever built, measuring 525,000 square feet. More than 800 researchers work inside the building, which houses the Medical School’s genetics department and the department of microbiology and immunobiology. It also contains a fitness center, café, courtyard, and auditorium. Chairs in the auditorium can be named for a $10,000 donation to the school.

Philanthropy experts say that there are multiple reasons why a large building on a university campus could remain nameless for an extended period of time.

Bob Carter, chairman of a Florida-based fundraising consulting firm, said the University might be waiting to name the building after a donor who could help fund renovations or other funding needs.

“They must be in the hunt somewhere for a name,” he said.

He explained the easiest time to secure a name for a new building falls before construction is finished, given this allows the university to lure donors with the prospect of groundbreaking research taking place at a facility named in their honor.

Carter also said it is possible the Medical School could not find a donor “at the right level." The cost of emblazoning your name on a building typically comprises half the price of construction, he said.

The University’s website offered to sell naming rights to the building for $50 million in 2013 and 2014, but this opportunity no longer appears on the list of naming opportunities.

Gene R. Tempel, former dean of Indiana University’s Lilly School of Philanthropy, said it used to be common practice for universities to name buildings after donors. He added, though, that there has been a slight shift away from the custom in recent years.

“Among younger donors today, there’s just a lot less interest in naming buildings than there was [previously],” he said.

In an emailed statement, Harvard spokeswoman Gina Vild did not give a reason for the building's 15-year unnamed status. Instead, she pointed to several gifts the school has received in recent years as well as the Medical School's fundraising success as part of its capital campaign.

As of December, the school had achieved 96% of its fundraising goal of $750 million, which has been used to establish the HMS Center for Primary Care, The Bertarelli Program in Translational Neuroscience and Neuroengineering, and the Evergrande Center for Immunologic Disease among other things.

—Staff writer Luke W. Vrotsos can be reached at luke.vrotsos@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter at luke_vrotsos.

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