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Harvard Plans to Restart Allston Project


Harvard plans a re-envisioned science building on the Western Avenue foundation where construction halted in 2010 (when this photograph was taken).

Harvard plans a re-envisioned science building on the Western Avenue foundation where construction halted in 2010 (when this photograph was taken).

Photograph by Stu Rosner

Harvard would like to rapidly resume construction of its science project in Allston (where work ceased in 2010 as a result of the financial crisis), a University representative announced at a June 13 meeting with members of the Allston community. Five hundred stem-cell scientists, bioengineers, and support staff will be the anchor tenants in a 500,000- to 600,000-square-foot health and life science center, associate vice president for public affairs and communications Kevin Casey told a meeting of the Harvard-Allston task force, adding that the University would like to start site preparation in late 2013 and begin construction in 2014. (See a bird's-eye view of the site and its surroundings.)

Realizing that schedule depends on surmounting several hurdles: space planning for the prospective occupants of the complex; an architectural redesign; regulatory approval; and securing funding for what will likely be a multihundred-million-dollar project. (Since the financial crisis, Harvard has eschewed reliance wholly on debt for such projects; the Fogg Art Museum renovation, for instance, now under way, has been supported by substantial philanthropic gifts, and the science complex will seek donor support as part of the forthcoming University capital campaign—see below.) 

The University also announced at the meeting the selection of a partner, Samuels & Associates, for the development of a mixed-use residential and retail project at Barry’s Corner, the intersection of Western Avenue and North Harvard Street (south of Harvard Stadium and southwest of the Harvard Business School Campus). This mixed-use project was first outlined in June 2011 as part of Harvard’s Allston Work Team recommendations. The Harvard Corporation approved those recommendations and a timeline for their implementation in September 2011. Rather than pursuing the 2007 master-plan vision for this critical site—which envisioned significant investment in cultural facilities, such as museums and a performing-arts complex—the 2011 proposal focused principally on housing for graduate students and faculty and retail uses. Bringing in a development partner offers Harvard expertise in creating such facilities, while transferring much of the financial burden for doing so away from the University. (Harvard has invested in acquiring the sites involved—near existing University service buildings—which also will be redeveloped—but presumably will not have to finance construction of the new residential and retail complex.)  

The announcements come less than nine months after the relocation of the stem-cell researchers (part of the interschool department of stem cell and regenerative biology; SCRB) to the Sherman-Fairchild building in Cambridge, which was rehabbed to accommodate their research at a cost of $65 million to $70 million. When the Allston complex is ready for occupancy, it will presumably be able to accommodate growth in these areas of research; and the Faculty of Arts and Sciences might then be able to reclaim the renovated Sherman-Fairchild space for expansion in other life-sciences fields (much of its inventory of laboratory space was absorbed when the Allston building was postponed and scientists expected to go there had to be accommodated elsewhere.)

In a letter distributed at the meeting, Harvard executive vice president Katie Lapp said that both the research programs planned for the new building—identified during a review process led by Provost Alan Garber—would have an educational component. (The building will include seminar rooms, classroom space, and undergraduate teaching laboratories.) The stem-cell group would consist primarily of faculty from the SCRB department, but would also include researchers from the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, which does not include a teaching program. In a statement, Xander University Professor Douglas Melton, co-chair of SCRB, noted that co-location of stem-cell scientists and bioengineers “should lead to the kinds of collaborations and exciting advances, and interesting experiments in undergraduate teaching, that otherwise might not take place.”

The bioengineering group will consist of faculty members from both the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, including wet- and dry-lab experimentalists, as well as applied mathematicians and theorists. Also, Lapp noted, “It is likely that the Cambridge-shared platforms of the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering would be included in this move….” (The Wyss Institute is based in the Longwood Medical Area, where Harvard Medical School and its affiliated hospitals are located.) SEAS dean Cherry A. Murray emphasized in a press statement that “with strong connections to industry, startup companies of our students and faculty, the burgeoning Innovation Lab, and nearby Harvard Business School, we have a magnificent opportunity to build new technologies in critical areas like drug delivery, medical devices, smart materials, and tissue engineering.” Other entities that make a clear contribution to advancing the science of the core groups, such as expertise in imaging—a key resource utilized by biologists and engineers at the forefront of cutting edge science—might also be co-located in the building.

Kevin Casey emphasized at the meeting that the summer months would be spent identifying the specific needs of scientists, which in turn would drive the space program within the building. That is expected to be more dense than the four-building project on the same foundation that was suspended after its enormous foundation was brought up to ground level—during the financial crisis. (For renderings of that complex, designed by Behnisch Architekten, see here and here.)

Members of the Allston Task Force questioned whether and when there would be a place for community input into the programming of the ground-floor space of the building. One resident questioned whether Harvard really had the money to complete this project; another said that Harvard should not be allowed to proceed with any more projects—such as the housing and retail space at Barry’s Corner—until the science facility is completed.

But the development partner for that project, Samuels & Associates, won high praise from the two Allston Task Force members who served on the Harvard-led 10-person Real Estate Partner Selection Committee. They said that the development firm, which was the committee’s unanimous choice, was community-focused and “paying attention.” The firm is known for its one-million-square-foot mixed use development called Fenway Triangle Trilogy, which includes 576 apartments, of which Harvard purchased 171 for use by Harvard Medical School students, faculty, and staff. Lapp also emphasized that Samuels & Associates is “known for thoughtful urban development and and positive neighborhood relationships”; the firm will be introduced to the Allston community at a meeting in late June.

Lapp wrote that the science-building project would be financed with “a mix of funding strategies including philanthropy.” In December of 2009, she had indicated that the University would look at a variety of possible funding opportunities, "including co-development with private partners or other institutional partners" for the science site, but no mention has been made of a development partner at this time.



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