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Allston and Boston Officials Discuss Best Use for Harvard Grant

By Hannah Natanson, Crimson Staff Writer

A committee of Allston residents and Boston officials heard the first proposals for how to best distribute $5.35 million Harvard previously granted for projects in the neighborhood at a meeting on Thursday.

Harvard disbursed the money to the eight-person board, termed the Flexible Fund Executive Committee, as part of the University’s $43 million community benefits package detailed in its master plan for its Allston developments.

In presentations to the public published online by the Boston Redevelopment Authority, Harvard labeled the grant a “flexible fund” for later projects and specified only that the money should be used to improve the “public realm.” The BRA is Boston’s urban planning agency.

Committee members and local residents said they remain unsure about what, exactly, the flexible fund can support.

“Sometimes there’s a little bit of a gray area about what constitutes the public realm,” Gerald Autler, the BRA’s senior project manager, said at the meeting. This uncertainty was reflected in the variety of different proposals entertained by the executive committee at the meeting.

Though the official application process is yet to begin, the BRA selected representatives from agencies including Boston Parks and Recreation, the Solomon Foundation, and the Boston Police Department to give brief presentations on potential uses for the grant money.

Suggested projects ranged from the renovation of a run-down amphitheatre in Allston’s Herter Park to the installation of neighborhood security cameras.

“If a crime occurs, we would have the video at our fingertips, we wouldn’t be guessing,” said Michael O’Hara, a police sergeant who spoke on behalf of the BPD. “We stop crime in the City of Boston using technology now… the detective days are over.”

Though committee members and attendees seemed united in support for O’Hara’s video camera proposal, other submissions received less praise. Two proposals in particular—one for the exterior renovation of the Honan-Allston Library and one for new smart boards and laptops for a local public school—garnered little interest from the executive committee.

“Funding technology and classrooms, my initial reaction is, as worthy a cause as that is, it’s not what this fund is about,” Autler said in response to the latter proposal.

During the meeting, Autler emphasized that no actual applications for project funding have been filed. After a brief discussion, the executive committee determined that an official application form would be posted online by the BRA on March 1.

In closing, Autler cautioned against either moving forward too swiftly or too slowly with the funding allocation process.

“My feeling is that we neither want to spend all the money all at once nor do we want to dole it out in small grants over the course of the next seven or eight years,” he said. “We want to come up with a strategy where we can channel significant amounts of money into a small number of high-impact projects.”

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