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Mark Johnson

The University announced today that its search for a vice president for capital planning and project management (a new senior administrative post intended to unify those functions across the Cambridge campus, the Longwood Medical Area, and Harvard’s property holdings in Allston—from the Business School to the extensive sites beyond for future development) had concluded with a home-grown talent: Mark R. Johnson, who was hired as a senior construction project manager in 2002. In that capacity, he oversaw Harvard Business School’s Baker Library/Bloomberg Center project (a renovation and expansion of the library and archival facility, with construction of new faculty offices), completed in 2005, and then Harvard Law School’s Northwest Corner building, now under way (to provide underground parking, new classrooms, offices for student publications, and space for clinical programs).

In a University statement, executive vice president Katie Lapp said,

As our campus continues to evolve, we need a manager who can balance the nature of academia with the practicalities of planning and budgets. Mark’s successes with past projects, outstanding leadership skills, and strategic vision make him the ideal person for this position.

At the law school, according to the statement, Johnson oversaw campus master planning and a five-year capital plan, and project approvals consistent with that plan. His new responsibilities are described as follows:

Johnson will be responsible for long-term planning of the Allston, Longwood, and Cambridge campuses, charged with providing direction and support for the University’s growth with an eye toward solid planning principles, design standards, programming, and sustainability. He also will develop and implement a University-wide, comprehensive, multiyear capital program and manage all construction projects for Central Administration and, as requested, the Schools. Johnson will report to Lapp and will work closely with the University’s chief financial officer, Dan Shore, and the vice president for campus services, Lisa Hogarty.

The emphasis on five-year capital planning—and the close coordination with financial administration—seem especially important. In a mid summer interview with Harvard Magazine, Lapp emphasized the centrality of the five-year capital plan—“something that most major enterprises do”—so the Corporation can have a clear view of individual school and overall objectives and investments, within the context of a coherent financial plan and budget. Much attention has focused on Harvard’s ambitions in Allston, and the decision last December to halt construction on its $1.4-billion science complex, the first major project there. In present circumstances, the University has scaled back its Allston ambitions, set in place a new planning process for the properties there—prospectively involving commercial or other co-development (see President Drew Faust’s recent comments on the prospects)—and ramped down its capital spending sharply. Apart from the law school building and the $400-million renovation of the Fogg Art Museum, the other major project under way is an extensive renovation of the Sherman Fairchild Biochemistry Building to accommodate stem-cell researchers who were to have been accommodated in the now-deferred Allston science complex. The Johnson’s new organization was formed by merging the prior University planning office and the Allston Development Group, uniting in-house expertise from across the campus.

But significant projects are looming: the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) urgently wants to renovate undergraduate Houses (at least a $1-billion project); several Harvard Medical School and FAS departments are space-constrained, as new laboratories have been filled to deal with the Allston deferral; and Harvard School of Public Health likely requires significant investment in its multibuilding campus, now that the idea of an entirely new school complex in Allston is indefinitely deferred. Alongside these items on the wish list, the campus facilities—some 26 million square feet—require regular maintenance and updating. And in the interest of maintaining its credit rating and preventing interest costs from soaring still further, Harvard has essentially put itself on a severe diet for debt financing, so hard choices will have to be made.

According to the University statement, Johnson started his professional career at Kieran, Timberlake & Harris, Architects and Planners, and continued at William Rawn Associates, Architects, in Boston. He also worked as a project manager for Linbeck Construction Corp. in Lexington. Johnson holds a certificate in management from Harvard, earned a master’s of architecture from Yale, and graduated magna cum laude from Princeton.

His familiarity with major parts of the Harvard campus, the local construction environment, and senior administrators will presumably accelerate his transition into his new role, at a time when a long-term capital-planning process matters not only to the University’s operations, but to the accelerating planning for a major fundraising campaign, where facilities wants will no doubt be in play.