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Goodbye Hole, Hello Square

By Rebecca K. Kramnick

Consider yourself lucky. If you had entered Harvard during any of the last seven or so Septembers, you would have needed a hard hat to traverse the center of Harvard Square.

Until last spring the Square was better known as "the Hole." The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) had ripped up most of Harvard's epicenter to construct a $72 million extension of the subway's Red Line past Harvard (previously the end of the line).

Things are back to normal now. In fact, the MBTA has left the Square in better shape than it found it. New landscaping, widened brick sidewalks, and a new home for the Square's bustling focal point, Out of Town News, now grace the Coop's front yard. A pink and blue Disneyland-style information booth, which opened in June, is the latest addition to the spiffed-up Square.

If you want to see a scaled-down version of what Harvard Square looked like in transition, take a trip a mile down Mass Ave. to Central Square, which is now undergoing a less extensive facelift.

The new dust- and commotion-free Square is no doubt good news for Square travellers. The bad news, on the other hand, is for subway riders who take the Red Line from Park to Harvard stations (you'll come to know it very well). This stretch, the latest phase of 'T' renovations, will be out of commission after 9 p.m. on weeknights and some weekends for the next two years.

You won't be entirely out of luck, however. The accommodating MBTA is providing shuttle bus service when the 'T' is off-limits.

The $13 million project is targeted to renovate stations, replace 40-year-old tracks, and lengthen platforms to accommodate six-car trains.

The Square and its environs have seen some other major changes during the past year. The Charles Square Hotel and mall complex, which opened last March, have added an ultra-ritzy dimension to Square consumerism. But business for Laura Ashley, Crabtree and Evelyn and the other higher-priced retail establishments hasn't been as good as expected.

In addition, a previously vacant tract of land near the Kennedy School just outside the Square's center has been converted into University Green and Place, a condominium/office project. The condos are selling for between $150,000 and $750,000 each, but just in case you were thinking of skipping out of the dorm, most of them have been occupied since June.

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