College Explores Housing Options

A group of Harvard students and administrators charged with planning the College’s billion-dollar House renewal project hit the road late last week, heading south to Yale and Princeton to observe the two Ivies’ recent renovation work.

Those on the trip said the tours, talks with project overseers, and input from students offered ample advice and put Harvard’s impending renovations in perspective.

“At the beginning of a very large—and very expensive—Harvard House renewal initiative, the trip was designed to allow Harvard faculty and administrators to benefit from the experience gained by our colleagues at Yale and Princeton, who have already launched their own house renewal projects,” said Quincy House master Lee Gehrke.

Yale has been in the middle of a long-term renovation of its 12 residential Colleges which has cost hundreds of millions of dollars and lasted almost 20 years. And Princeton spent $100 million constructing Whitman College, one of its six residential colleges, in 2007.

One issue explored over the trip was that concerning “swing space,” the temporary residences for students who are displaced during the House renovations. Since last spring, the College has been grappling with the problem of finding suitable space in Cambridge’s crowded real estate market.

“Yale built a swing House, which will be necessary at Harvard too,” Nelson wrote.

Undergraduate Council President Matthew L. Sundquist ’09 said students at Yale forced to live in swing space stressed the importance of maintaining community in temporary housing that may lack the common spaces conducive to social interaction.

He also said project administrators from Yale encouraged looking at the long-term renovations project as an extended conversation, and not “a six-month planning period where everything is definitively decided followed by a year-long construction period where that plan is carried out strictly.”

Many on the trip also said they were impressed by the institutions’ more efficient use of residential space following their renovations.

“Yale has really taken advantage of their basement spaces in all their houses by building multimedia rooms, theatres in their basements, building performance spaces in their basements, having a printing press in the basement of one of their colleges,” Sundquist said, echoing similar sentiments expressed by Nelson and Gehrke. “In terms of public space, they’ve done a great job of providing that.”

“You can imagine,” he added, “what it would be like if Eliot, Kirkland, and Winthrop could be connected and all have access to the same resources. I think that was very wise of them.”

Several group members also said they returned to Harvard with a reassured confidence in Harvard’s residential House model.

“For me,” said Colin T. Flood ’09, a member of the House Planning Program Committee and one of the students on the trip, “it was personally beneficial. When you get an opportunity to step back from the day-to-day and look at what the overall picture at the other places is, it really helps you see what the value is in this Harvard experience.”

—Staff writer Charles J. Wells can be reached at