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The Boston Redevelopment Authority, the city's urban planning body, unanimously voted to approve Harvard’s proposed $1 billion science and engineering complex on Thursday, nearly a decade after the agency gave its approval to the University’s first iteration of the building in 2007.
The excitement felt by both Harvard representatives and BRA officials about the vote was palpable at the BRA’s board of directors meeting on Thursday night.
“This is an exciting night,” BRA senior project manager Gerald Autler said before beginning his presentation to the board. “So exciting I could sing, but I won’t.”
The six-story science complex, designed by the Boston office of German architectural firm Behnisch Architekten, will feature classrooms, laboratories, and 70,000 square feet of public green space. Construction is slated to start again this summer, six years after Harvard halted construction on the complex due to the 2009 financial crisis, Harvard’s Associate Vice President for Public Affairs and Communications Kevin Casey told the Boston Globe.
“The Science and Engineering Complex is a state-of-the-art facility that will enhance partnership across academic disciplines and encourage connections among the University, the community, and new partners in industry and research,” University President Drew G. Faust said in a press release.
SEAS Dean Francis J. Doyle III termed the building “one of the world’s most advanced science and engineering facilities” in the press release and said the BRA’s official approval represents an “exciting milestone” for both Harvard and SEAS.
At the meeting, Casey, who presented on behalf of the University, said he was “thrilled to be before [the board] tonight with this project.”
In his speech, Casey emphasized what he said were the potential benefits of locating SEAS faculty within a few minutes’ walk of the Harvard Business School. Harvard plans to relocate roughly two thirds of the faculty of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences to the nearly 500,000-square foot building when it opens in 2020.
“This is a group [that is] looking to do things and push boundaries that have never been done before,” Casey said of the SEAS faculty. “To locate this kind of innovative faculty across from the entrepreneurial faculty of HBS, we think will create a gravitational pull that will attract investors for the ideas that are coming out of here.”
Though the motion to approve Harvard’s science complex passed unanimously, BRA board member Theodore C. Landsmark raised concerns over the methods and metrics of Harvard’s contributions to the City of Boston. He urged Harvard to “think beyond” Boston’s “payment in lieu of taxes” program, which calls for voluntary payments from nonprofit organizations that have at least $15 million worth of property.
“In one of our earlier approvals tonight, we saw significant financial investment coming from our unions towards the creation of affordable housing,” he said. “So it’s not as though there aren’t precedents for other ways that Harvard can use its resources to address certain pressing needs within the city.”
At the meeting, the BRA board also voted to approve Harvard’s Soldiers Field Park graduate housing renovation project, an interior renewal of the existing four-building housing complex scheduled to take place over the next four years.
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