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Neighbors Hear Plans For New Science Facility

By Jessica R. Rubin-wills, Crimson Staff Writer

Less than a day after news broke that top University officials are pondering a campus plan that would create a science hub in Allston, Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) officials told Cambridge residents this week they hope to go forward with plans for a new state-of-the-art science facility on this side of the river.

The Laboratory for Interface Science and Engineering (LISE), a proposed 135,000-square-foot building to be located behind the Science Center, will allow faculty to pursue interdisciplinary research in physics and engineering, according to FAS Associate Dean for Physical Resources and Planning David A. Zewinski ’76.

On Friday night, news broke that, at a midsummer meeting, the University’s deans and president discussed a plan for the University’s land across the river that would send some science facilities and undergraduate housing, as well as the School of Public Health and the Graduate School of Education, to Allston.

Zewinski and other officials met with residents of the Agassiz neighborhood—the area just north of Harvard Yard where the bulk of FAS science resides—on Saturday morning over coffee and bagels to answer questions about the construction and impact of the project.

After a resident asked how the new building would fit into long-term plans to create a new science campus in Allston, Harvard representatives said that some science facilities will remain in Cambridge under all scenarios.

“We are still in a planning process with regard to Allston,” said Senior Director of Community Relations Mary H. Power. “The sciences, particularly those associated with the undergraduate curriculum, will always have a presence here.”

Zewinski said he expected a science campus in Allston would focus on the life sciences, with possible collaborations with Harvard Medical School. Buildings used for teaching undergraduates would stay in the North Yard, he said.

“It’s logistically very complicated to have those facilities be over in Allston,” Zewinski said.

LISE’s design will come before the city Planning Board for approval next month.

The construction would last about two-and-a-half years, and would begin in early 2004 if the project gets the necessary approval from the city, Zewinski said.

The majority of LISE will be located underground, with a 96-foot tall, above-ground portion that will attach to the Gordon McKay building.

The design by architect Rafael Moneo calls for a structure of translucent, opaque glass, raised above the ground on three legs that will allow room for pedestrian walkways underneath.

“The design of this building is specifically aimed at being community-friendly,” said Zewinski, pointing to the pathways into the courtyard and a new coffee shop to be located in the building.

The underground space will include a “clean room,” a particle-free laboratory for conducting research in nanoscience, the study of the small-scale universe.

The plans also include new landscaping for the courtyard behind the Science Center, and the loading dock will be moved underground.

“When the construction is done, you should see an improvement,” Zewinski said.

Construction is nothing new to the Agassiz area, where science expansion has been going on for years.

The eight community members who attended the meeting raised questions about noise and traffic disruption from LISE.

Charles E. Connor of the William A. Berry and Son construction management company has been overseeing the community impacts of all of the FAS projects, running a hotline for residents to call with concerns.

Zewinski said LISE would fall under the same regulations for construction mitigation. He added that the project would not disrupt the traffic on Oxford Street.

After the meeting, several residents stayed for a tour of the site, where construction is already underway to upgrade the utilities in the area.

There will be another community meeting on Wednesday. Power said the project would be also be discussed at the Agassiz Neighborhood Council’s monthly meeting on Sept. 16.

Resident Rosemary Bonanno said after the meeting that she appreciated Harvard’s efforts to involve its neighbors.

“I think Harvard’s trying to be kind to the community,” she said. But she added, “They will do what they want, and it will happen.”

—Staff writer Jessica R. Rubin-Wills can be reached at rubinwil@fas.harvard.edu.

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