One thing is certain about the value of Harvard's buildings: if the University were to sell them all, it would generate enough income to eliminate the national debts of many countries.
It's a bit harder to arrive at something more precise than that, however. The Cambridge Assessors Office does periodically estimate the value of the city's buildings. But Sally Powers, director of the office, said the city has not had sufficient incentive in recent memory to perform such an evaluation for Harvard.
"It's very hard, or impossible, to come up with the worth of the buildings because of the historic value," Powers said. "And we don't even need to know it for property tax purposes because Harvard has an in-lieu-of-tax agreement with the city."
One figure the University does keep is the pure restoration value of all of its buildings. This figure indicates what the University would have to pay to rebuild a structure that suddenly turned to ashes, said Kathy Spiegelman, Harvard's director of physical planning. She quickly pointed out, however that the figures don't take into account their location or historic value.
"These figures have nothing to do with their actual market value," Spiegelman said, adding that many of the buildings could not be rebuilt in the same way they were constructed.
She said the estimates are used as tactic to force faculties to be responsible for the upkeep of their buildings. "This way they don't defer on their maintenance and have the need for major repairs," Spiegelman said.
Accepting the various qualifications, what would it take to reconstruct all of the University's buildings, including those outside Cambridge? The answer: $3.1 billion. And the individual buildings? Spiegelman provided restoration costs for eight Harvard landmarks:
*Widener Library--$88 million
*Science Center--$71 million
*Lamont Library--$20 million
*Memorial Hall--$19 million
*Sever Hall--$18.5 million
*Harvard Union--$17 million
*Malkin Athletic Center--$15.5 million
*University Hall--$6 million
Restoration values for all undergraduate housing, Spiegelman said, total about $500 million. In the interests of diplomacy, she declined to disclose figures for specific residential buildings.
"There would be a lot of students saying they paid the same room and board as others in nicer houses but didn't get their money's worth," Spiegelman said.
Outside sources likewise could not place an exact overall value of a dorm. Dan M. Lipset '78, co-owner of Charles Associates Real Estate in Cambridge, said there are too many factors to consider, including house facilities and historic value. But he did take a stab at the cost of rebuilding the houses in today's market.
Considering the fact that the structures would be built on "prime real estate," Lipset said the new buildings would cost about $350-400 per square foot.
"But that still doesn't take the historic value of the buildings into account," he said.