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SEAS Dean Sees ‘Silver Linings’ in New Allston Timeline

The interior of the new Science and Engineering Complex in Allston.
The interior of the new Science and Engineering Complex in Allston. By Courtesy of Paul Karoff
By Brie K. Buchanan and Elizabeth X. Guo, Crimson Staff Writers

With the beginning of the move into the new Science and Engineering Complex in Allston less than two weeks away, Dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences Francis J. Doyle III confirmed progress is on-track and discussed “silver linings” of the current move-in timeline in an interview Thursday.

The SEC obtained its Certificate of Occupancy in September. Phased move-in will begin the first week of November and will stretch into February 2021, with the complex slated to open to undergraduate students for the 2021-2022 academic year.

SEAS faculty are currently in the process of packing up their belongings and equipment, according to Doyle. His own Dean’s office, for instance, is already prepared for the move.

“I have already gone back to Oxford Street. I have boxed up and packed the Dean’s office,” Doyle said. “Forty boxes later and a little bit of a sore back, that office was all wrapped up. And now I will unwrap those 40 packed boxes the second week of November.”

While his own move-in process will be relatively straightforward, moving certain pieces of scientific equipment to the SEC — including the Mark I computer that used to sit in the lobby of the Science Center — may prove more complicated, according to Doyle. He added that SEAS will adhere closely to public health and social distancing guidelines throughout the move-in, which may slow down the process.

“We have to be a little more thoughtful about timing the moves. Pre-COVID, we would have just said, ‘Let’s avoid traffic jams in the hallways.’ Now, we’ve got to maintain social distancing, density in the building, things like that,” Doyle said.

But the slower move-in timeline in place comes with benefits, according to Doyle. In particular, SEAS has been able to take its time through the transition and work on fine-tuning details, including the shuttle system that will connect the Quad to Allston as well as dining options for students.

“I’m a big believer in the silver lining; I’m a ‘glass is half-full’ kind of guy. So, having a little more time to be methodical and thoughtful, as opposed to what otherwise would have been a carefully choreographed, but a rather intense schedule over the summer, is now going to be drawn out over the year,” Doyle said. “And that, to me, is a silver lining.”

Doyle also noted the overall efficiency with which progress on the SEC was able to resume at the beginning of the summer after pausing in mid-March as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

“If anything, I have been positively impressed at how quickly the University and the contractors rebooted the process, got things back on track when we shut down all things — research, teaching, and the building construction — back in the spring,” Doyle said. “I thought it could be a very long, protracted shutdown, but in fact they did reboot relatively quickly.”

Though the “serendipitous collisions” between SEAS affiliates that the SEC was designed to foster may be limited due to the pandemic, Doyle said SEAS still hopes the building attracts visitors while adhering to COVID-19 regulations.

“That was the idea — to really get people bumping into each other. And now in COVID times, that's a very bad idea,” Doyle said. “But we also wanted traffic coming through the lobby, we wanted visitors from the Allston community, we wanted visitors from the Harvard community to flow through the lobby of the building. So we are planning a number of displays. There's some very interesting dynamic artwork in the lobby that will draw our community, but we’re going to do this under the safety COVID protocols for now.”

In addition to its impacts on physical access to the SEC, COVID-19 has also disrupted research, limiting lab occupancy and undergraduate students’ ability to join research teams. Currently, only registered seniors are able to conduct in-person research in SEAS laboratories, which are still operating at 50 percent density, per local mandates.

Doyle said he is working in his capacity as SEAS dean to safely re-open labs to more undergraduate students.

“We're having conversations with the College, trying to loosen some of those restrictions in the future, but a lot of that depends on decisions the College and the FAS are going to make about the spring semester,” Doyle said.

Despite these restrictions, Doyle said SEAS affiliates can still maximize their research experiences by utilizing rotating shifts in the lab while maintaining 50 percent density. Registered underclassmen are also eligible to conduct remote research with faculty.

“If you use seven days of the week, if you play the shifts, those who are hungry and eager to get into labs can actually — even with a 50 percent rule — get very close to full productivity,” Doyle said.

—Staff writer Brie K. Buchanan can be reached at brie.buchanan@thecrimson.com.

—Staff writer Elizabeth X. Guo can be reached at elizabeth.guo@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter at @elizabethxguo.

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