Harvard Univ. to halt science center construction

AP News
Posted: Dec 11, 2009 10:52 AM

Harvard University will halt construction of a new science complex in Boston's Allston neighborhood after completing the building's foundation, university president Drew Faust said Thursday, citing the Ivy League school's "altered financial landscape."

The move, which had been anticipated, was approved by the university's governing board, the Harvard Corp., and revealed in a letter from Faust to the Allston community. She said the decision followed a review of cost projections and alternatives for housing science programs.

The science complex was to be the first major development in a 50-year plan announced in 2007 for Allston, where Harvard's athletic facilities and business school are located.

"The altered financial landscape of the University, and of the wider world, necessitates a shift away from rapid development in Allston, and thus requires a simultaneous commitment to a program of active stewardship of Harvard properties," Faust wrote.

Harvard's endowment _ the largest of any university in the country _ fell nearly $11 billion to $26 billion in the fiscal year that ended June 30, as its portfolio was battered by the worldwide recession. The school eliminated 275 staff jobs, froze salaries and made other cost-cutting moves.

"We concluded that the most prudent course is to delay the next phase of construction while continuing a rigorous analysis of strategies for resumed activity, including co-development," she wrote.

The university would assemble a team of experts to assess its development options, Faust said. In the meantime, the school would take steps to address concerns about its other properties in the neighborhood, including a renewed effort to find tenants for some vacant or partially-occupied buildings.

Faust announced in February that construction of the science building would be slowed pending a review of whether to continue, pause the work or reconfigure the building to save money and use the space differently.

Ray Mellone, an Allston resident who chairs the Harvard Allston Task Force, said Thursday's announcement, though not unexpected, would be a further disappointment to neighborhood residents who had been hoping to hear at least some type of timeline for when the process might go forward.

"The university has to take care of its primary purpose, which would be education, I have no argument with that," he said. "But it leaves us looking for some kind of assurances that they are not going to just let us hang in the balance for a very long time. That's the unknown part."

Mellone said he was pleased by Faust's promise of renewed commitment to the neighborhood and intrigued by her suggestion of a co-developer for the science complex, which he called a "new wrinkle" in the discussions.

Katherine Lapp, Harvard's executive vice president, said in an interview that potential development partners could range from private investors to local research hospitals to other institutional users of laboratory space.

While there is no specific timeline, "the president has made it clear that this is very action oriented process," Lapp said.

"This delay will in no way slow Harvard's significant momentum in the life sciences," Faust wrote, saying the university continues to invest in research facilities and cutting-edge research.