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Allstonians Review Impact of Harvard 'Flexible Fund'

Allston. By Evan T. Arnold
By Truelian Lee and Jacqueline P. Patel, Crimson Staff Writers

Allston residents and planning officials discussed the impact of community projects financed by a Harvard-sponsored fund over the last two years during a meeting Monday.

The $5.35 million “flexible fund” is part of a larger 10-year community benefits package Harvard bequeathed to Allston in 2013, when the University sought city approval to develop its Allston property. The total package is worth $43 million.

To date, the Boston Planning and Development Agency—which manages the flexible fund—has allocated more than two million dollars of the $5.35 million for community improvement projects in Allston.

The goal of Monday’s meeting was to review the progress of projects supported by the fund.

Cathy Baker-Eclipse, a member of the Boston Parks and Recreation Department, presented on a project intended to improve Smith Playground by incorporating a new amphitheater and water spray.

Baker-Eclipse said the flexible fund helped cover around two million dollars of the five million dollar project. Other sources of funding included surplus from the Boston City’s snow removal budget and money from Boston College’s Neighborhood Improvement Fund.

Gerald Autler, a senior project manager at the Boston Planning and Development Agency, called the Smith Playground improvement project “high-impact.”

“I don’t think we’ll give another grant of this magnitude,” Autler said.

Autler attributed the success of this project to “the ability to start to improve this largely significant neighborhood improvement sooner.”

Shawn Burns, a Boston police sergeant, also presented on an initiative to buy four message boards for the Allston-Brighton police departments at the meeting.

“From the police standpoint and from input from the community, these boards have been extremely effective,” Burns said.

The Boston police department first submitted the $96,000 proposal for the boards in 2016, which were eventually purchased for $62,000. The grant from the flexible fund allowed the department to incorporate these boards into its operations, according to Burns.

The message boards can display customized messages and track and analyze traffic and speed data. A software package purchased separately allows the police department to program the boards remotely.

Burns said Boston Calling, a music festival occuring this May, would be an opportunity to utilize these boards for traffic and crowd control.

Lastly, local resident Karen Chang discussed a project to restore Herter Park, which used a $50,000 grant from the flexible fund. The Friends of Herter Park, the organization that spearheaded the restoration, received the flex-fund grant in spring 2016.

Autler said the restoration project is an example of how small amounts from the flexible fund can lead to substantial improvements in the community.

“In the context of the $5.3 million fund, this was not a massive investment, but one that has brought this resource back to life,” he said. “[It is] a great example of what we can do with 50,000—the kind of thing I’d like to see a lot more of.”

—Staff writer Truelian Lee can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @truelian_lee.

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