After a decade of planning, construction of the John F. Kennedy Memorial Library and an adjacent $10-million University political science building on a site across from Eliot House is still in doubt.
Twelve months ago, the $27-million Kennedy Library and Museum complex was ready for construction: the plans had been prepared and released; the MBTA was clearing the site; and community opposition had been muted by formal City Council support of the project.
Today, the plans have been drastically scaled down; the project has been held in limbo pending the outcome of a federal environmental impact report; and a proliferation of community groups threatens legal action to block construction of the library in Cambridge.
The University's interests are irretrievably entangled in the local controversy over the library. As Donald C. Moulton, assistant to the vice president for community affairs, said last week if the Kennedy Library is not built on the MBTA yard site, the university will "be put back to ground zero" in planning construction of its new building.
Last September, the Council on Environmental Quality announced that the Kennedy Library project required an environmental impact statement before construction could begin.
The intricacies of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, passed since conception of the Kennedy Library, has delayed the project a year and threatens to kill it completely.
The General Services Administration (GSA), which controls the national archives and will own and operate the Kennedy Library after its construction, was charged with administering the study. The agency spent six months defining the scope of the study and held competitive bidding for a $200,000 contract to conduct the study.
In February 1974, the GSA selected C.E. Maguire Inc., a Waltham engineering firm, to prepare the report. The government gave Maguire 120 days to study environmental and socio-economic effects of the library, as well as to consider alternate sites for the complex in Watertown, Charlestown and Waltham.
Unfortunately, Maguire had not prepared for the organized community opposition to the project that had formed since its proposal in 1964. Community leaders--including representatives of the Harvard Square Development Task Force, Neighborhood Ten, and three city councilors--held a press conference questioning the firm's integrity and calling upon the GSA to review its contract.
The community leaders charged Maguire with having altered a report under pressure from another client, the Massachusetts Port Authority.
The GSA, at first refusing to discuss Maguire's selection with the community, launched an internal investigation of the firm. The review, according to GSA Administrator Arthur F. Sampson, concluded that the charges against Maguire were "unfounded."
Subsequent release of the actual report on the firm, however, showed the investigation had discovered "inconsistencies and inadequacies" in Maguire's past report. The GSA investigator had found no direct evidence that Maguire had altered its report under political pressure but conceded that there was circumstantial evidence for the accusations.
Maguire, who received a six-week extension of its contract, also faced the problem of evaluating a project of indefinite size and design. Because of rising construction costs and community opposition, the Kennedy Library Corporation withdrew the plans for the complex it had unveiled last year.
Architect I.M. Pei set to work scaling down the project and last week released a new design which eliminated an 85-foot-high glass pyramid and two 350-seat auditoriums. Pei also redesigned the complex in brick, to blend in with the colonial motifs of the Harvard Houses which are across from the site.
The Harvard building will house the Kennedy School of Government, the Department of Economics, the Center for International Affairs, and the Institute of Politics.
Although Pei has not drawn up a design for the building, he and Harvard officials have agreed upon an outline which calls for the construction of a six-story brick building in the northeast corner of the site. The structure will have a narrow rectangular shape, measuring 380 by 50 feet and will contain 160,000 sq. feet of floor space.
A Library Corporation survey released two weeks ago revealed that opposition to the project centers in the residents who live closest to Harvard Square, and that a plurality of Cambridge residents favor construction of the center. This opposition, though, includes half a dozen well-organized community groups and four city councilors.
Those in favor of construction of the library on the MBTA site include the Kennedys, a majority of the city council, the General Services Administration, labor and veterans groups, and, implicitly, Harvard University.
The last refuge of the opposition lies in the mechanisms the federal government established to protect the environment. A negative Maguire report could kill the project. Even if the report is favorable, the law allows community residents to challenge it in court--a move which could delay the Kennedy Library for several more years.
Whether Eliot House residents will ever wake up to the sight of the John F. Kennedy Memorial Library, a new University building, thousands of tourists roaming through Harvard Square, and sightseeing buses lining the streets is still an open question.