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Northwest Corner Construction Makes Progress

By Zoe A. Y. Weinberg, Crimson Staff Writer

Harvard Law School’s Northwest Corner building project—which will significantly expand space available for both academic and student activities—is under budget and ahead of schedule, slated for completion in December 2011, Law School administrators said.

“We’re not declaring victory yet,” said Dean of Administration Francis X. McCrossan, noting that construction, which broke ground in 2007, will continue for another 18 months before completion. “But we are pretty confident that we will come in at or a little bit better than budget.”

The project also includes an underground parking lot that can accommodate 695 vehicles and will be open to faculty and staff across the University.

The parking lot is about 80 percent complete and will begin to open in the third week of August 2010, said University Director of Transportation Services John Nolan. Currently, the parking garage is about 5.5 percent under budget.

Administrators declined to comment on the total cost of the Northwest Corner project.

The decreased cost can largely be attributed to lower interest rates on the debt used to finance construction in the wake of the financial crisis, according to Construction and Project Manager Mark R. Johnson.

The initial budget also overestimated the costs of a contamination incident from a cleaner next door, Nolan said.

The 250,000 square foot building will create new custodial, staff, and maintenance jobs when it opens, according to McCrossan. Over the next six months, McCrossan and his team will gauge how many additional staff members the building will require.

Northwest Corner is divided into three components, officially named Wasserstein Hall, Caspersen Student Center, and the Clinical Wing. The entire Corner is now frequently referred to as “Wasserstein Caspersen Clinical,” or “WCC” for short. The Clinical Wing serves as a potential naming opportunity for a major donor.

Law School alumnus Finn M. W. Caspersen gave $30 million—the largest gift in the Law School’s history­—to fund a wing of the Northwest Corner. After he committed suicide in 2009, media outlets reported that he was under investigation by the IRS for tax evasion, but McCrossan said there has been no indication that his gift to the Law School will be clawed back due to the IRS inquiries.

The Caspersen Student Center was largely modeled on the Business School’s Spangler Hall and will include a spacious lounge area and increased dining facilities.

“This new student gathering place is finally sized for our student body,” McCrossan said. “It will allow us to take better care of our students.”

Bruce J. Wasserstein, who also graduated from the Law School and passed away last year, donated $25 million for the building.

The Wasserstein Hall component of Northwest Corner will house almost all of the Law School’s classroom spaces. The classrooms will be configured for about 85 students—the average size of Law School sections, down from about 140 in the past—according to McCrossan.

“It will make a big difference in how the curriculum will be delivered,” he said.

The building will also include more individual breakout spaces to allow for student-to-student and professor-to-student interaction, McCrossan said. Though the current classrooms in Pound Hall will continued to be used, they may eventually be converted into office space.

The Clinical component of the building will house the Law School’s fast-growing clinical program, student organizations, and journals. In the past, most student groups met in the basements of different buildings, and clinics were spread all over campus and Harvard Square, where the Law School had begun to rent space to accommodate the programs.

Though the prestigious Harvard Law Review will remain in Gannett House, student publications and clubs will now be grouped together to encourage student exchange across groups.

“It will give students a wonderful space to come together and be successful in their law school endeavors,” Nolan said.

GREEN FROM THE GROUND UP

The Northwest Corner complex is expected to receive Gold LEED certification (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), one of the highest award levels for environmental design.

The Law School hired Atelier Ten, an environmental design consulting firm, to assist throughout the project. Atelier Ten has worked on projects at Harvard Business School and has played a role in almost all of Yale’s recent building projects, according to Emilie N. Hagen, an associate at the firm who advised the Northwest Corner project.

Hagen said that the firm conducted extensive analyses of daylight performance and other climate factors in the early stages of building design and guided the Law School through the LEED certification process.

Though the project managers did not specifically aim for Gold certification, the Law School tried to find ways to incorporate environmentally friendly materials as long as they were financially feasible.

The building takes advantage of as much natural light as possible and reuses rainwater from the roof for irrigation. Seventy-five percent of the construction waste is being recycled or reused rather than being sent to landfills, according to a report on the sustainability of the project. The parking garage will also use a “preferred parking” system—offering better spots to faculty and staff who drive high-performance, environmentally-friendly cars, Hagen said.

Though installation or up-front costs for green technology and material is often more expensive, the Law School expects to recuperate most of the costs through decreased operating expenses in the long-term, McCrossan said.

“It was very pragmatic,” Hagen said. “[HLS] really wanted to get a building that was as green as it could be for the money they had.”

—Staff writer Zoe A. Y. Weinberg can be reached at zoe.weinberg@college.harvard.edu.

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