A Temporary Relief

Allston construction pause forces Harvard School of Public Health to find short-term solutions

Ask any event planner at the Harvard School of Public Health for a room, and he or she will recommend Kresge 502.

Furnished with swivel chairs and hanging flat-screen TVs, the auditorium lends itself well to interactive seminars and multimedia lectures for large groups.

Too bad it’s almost always booked. For the School of Public Health, the University’s decision in December to halt construction indefinitely in Allston left administrators and faculty scrambling to find temporary solutions to relieve the overcrowding of its cramped spaces.

With the promise of an additional 450,000 square feet of space, Allston would have lifted much of the pressure imposed by overcrowding at the school, which hampered its ability to expand its teaching and research facilities.

Recognizing that a prospective move to Allston was no longer a realistic medium-term solution, School of Public Health officials began efforts this past year to reorganize existing space for maximum use and explore options for leasing additional space in the Longwood Medical Area.


“We are at capacity—I mean, you should see schedules,” says Nancy M. Kane, the school’s associate dean of educational programs. “It takes a computer doing advanced linear programming just to figure out when to schedule a class, and you’re always going to conflict with someone.”

“It’s a nightmare,” Kane adds.


In the fall of 2008, the School of Public Health launched an alternative case-based core curriculum for MPH students based on an interdisciplinary approach to problem-solving in public health.

Kane turned to the only room on the school’s campus equipped to facilitate the face-to-face classroom interaction the new curriculum aimed to create—Kresge 502.

The few rooms that can accommodate the 60 students enrolled in the new curriculum, Kane says, did not offer the semicircular seating unique to Kresge 502 and would have been ineffectual for class discussions.

“You don’t really see each other,” Kane says. “You just see the back of each other’s heads.”

Just a three-minute walk from Kresge, nutrition and epidemiology professor Meir J. Stampfer says existing lab space is not enough to support the school’s growing body of federally funded research.

“It’s not just about getting the grant money,” Stampfer says. “Once you get the grant, you have to have the space to do the research.”

His lab, Stampfer says, recently received funding for more personnel, but he and his team had difficulty finding space to accommodate the new hires.