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Economy Will Not Stop House Renewal

By Bita M. Assad and Ahmed N. Mabruk, Crimson Staff Writerss

In spite of a deepening economic recession, College administrators maintain that the financial crisis will not derail their large-scale House renewal project—the most extensive renovation of The College’s nine river and three Quad Houses, with a $1 billion price tag.

But last Tuesday, Yale University President Richard C. Levin announced that construction of two new residential colleges on that campus, in addition to other construction projects, will be delayed, citing a projected 25 percent drop in Yale’s endowment by June.

University President Drew G. Faust also forecasted a similarly significant endowment drop of roughly 30 percent by the end of this academic year.

Still, Suzy M. Nelson, the associate dean of residential life, said that the need for House renewal will take precedence—even amid sweeping budget cuts.

Nelson reiterated the College’s commitment to the “ambitious” renewal plan, calling it a priority and echoing sentiments expressed by Faust, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Michael D. Smith, and College Dean Evelynn M. Hammonds in a December Crimson op-ed.

“It’s hard for me to see the future,” Nelson said. “We keep priorities in sight, and we plan to achieve them.”

Because the House renewal project is still in its planning stage, the administration is operating on a relatively flexible schedule.

“We’re not at a place where we can even think about breaking ground,” Nelson said.

Since no concrete timeline has been established—the search last spring for a new College dean to spearhead the House renewal project delayed initial planning—“there’s technically nothing to delay,” Smith said in an interview last month.

The release of a House Program Planning Steering Committee report will initiate the second phase of House renewal dealing with design and development. Nelson said the report will be made available to the Harvard community in about two weeks.

She added that she expects construction and renovation, the third and final phase of House renewal, to begin no earlier than 2012.

Nelson said the report is the product of a year-long analysis of House life and features an in-depth examination of residential accommodations and academic and social spaces. It also scrutinizes the broader mission of House life.

Central to the report is the visualization of what an ideal House should be, regardless of location or cost.

The report concludes that the “historic mystique of a Harvard building” should be reconciled with more practical concerns gleaned from student surveys and focus groups, including better lighting and heating, increased privacy, and greater sound-proofing.

According to Nelson, the report is the only probing study of residential life in recent years. The last extensive report was published in 1969, she said.

“This is an important stage in Harvard’s history,” Nelson said. “We are re-imagining [House life] for the next generation of students, and we want to do it right.”

—Staff writer Bita M. Assad can be reached at bassad@fas.harvard.edu. —Staff writer Ahmed N. Mabruk can be reached at amabruk@fas.harvard.edu.

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