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Chance of Delay Worries Allston

By Vidya B. Viswanathan and Peter F. Zhu, Crimson Staff Writerss

Harvard’s ongoing uncertainty about the pace of its Allston expansion—specifically the future of the much-anticipated science complex—was met by community frustration at last night’s Allston-Brighton neighborhood task force meeting.

Residents demanded that Harvard follow through on its promise of community benefits and implement them quickly, regardless of possible changes to the Institutional Master Plan that lays out the University’s proposals for expansion.

Chief University Planner Kathy A. Spiegelman said that the troubled economic climate is forcing the University to analyze all capital projects, and that it is unlikely that the University will file an updated IMP as planned in early 2009.

Harvard broke ground on the science complex—its only Allston expansion initiative approved thus far—in 2008, following a cooperation agreement with the City of Boston to provide $25 million in community benefits.

But the University is now considering alternate locations to house its stem cell research department, previously touted as a cornerstone of this new science center.

The possibility that the building of the science complex may slow—or even halt entirely—has worried community members, who have complained about the aesthetic repercussions of Harvard’s construction delays.

“I don’t want to be looking at a big hole,” said Cathleen Campbell, a member of the community task force. “I want to know that Harvard is 100 percent committed to completing [the science complex] and the community benefits associated with it.”

But according to the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA), Harvard cannot unilaterally decide to modify the pace of the science complex construction.

“Even if Harvard chooses not to invest further money in constructing the project, they cannot do it without negotiating with the city,” said Kairos Shen, Boston’s chief planner.

Shen added that because Harvard has not yet notified the BRA of any changes to its plan, the city has not considered the issue of the hole.

BRA Senior Project Manager Gerald Autler noted that “Harvard’s decision to stop construction on the building doesn’t necessarily release them on the cooperation agreements tied to the building.”

However, the possibility of Harvard reneging on its promises still drew worry from residents.

State representative Michael J. Moran said that the community accelerated approval for the science complex specifically because the planned research was “important to the bigger picture of health all over the world” and that halting construction “would be a serious step back in the relationship you’ve built with all of us.”

City Councillor Mark Ciommo similarly argued that with “all the bright minds” at Harvard, it would be irresponsible to abandon construction of the science complex.

“There’s too many vacant properties in this community as it is,” Ciommo said, noting that Harvard recently purchased land in Brighton without explicitly outlining plans for the property.

Spiegelman responded that the University’s continued acquisitions are a signal of continued commitment to Allston.

According to Spiegelman, talk of keeping the stem cell department in Cambridge partially reflects Harvard’s efforts to reassure its top faculty that despite financial trouble, scientific research remains a priority.

A couple of task force members saw the University’s financial straits as an opportunity to define the community’s goals more clearly.

“Just because Harvard is delayed doesn’t mean we need to be delayed,” said Bruce Houghton, a community task force member. “We need a plan so that the BRA and Harvard don’t shove us to one side.”

But he also expressed doubts that Harvard’s financial situation truly rendered it incapable of following through on its promises in Allston.

“The community should not accept that all things slow down,” Houghton said. “You have the resources, you have the ability, and we would like you to improve the community now.”

—Staff writer Vidya B. Viswanathan can be reached at

—Staff writer Peter F. Zhu can be reached at

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