CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Harvard University will halt construction of a science center in Boston’s Allston neighborhood after completing the building’s foundation, while it reassesses future development options.
The university had big hopes for its $1 billion science complex. The massive collection of buildings was supposed to anchor a sprawling new campus. University officials said the modern lab spaces would attract top scientists. But those dreams were tempered earlier this year, after Harvard lost a good chunk of its endowment and the recession dragged on.
Now, Harvard officials are putting the plan on hold. The announcement, which had been expected, was made Thursday in a letter (PDF) to the Allston community from Harvard President Drew Faust. She said the decision to pause construction of the state-of-the-art facility was made earlier this week by the school’s governing body, the Harvard Corporation.
“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 spokeswoman Christine Heenan said the university will finish building the center’s foundation in early spring and then reassess the project.
“The focus is not on a specific timetable but rather on looking at strategies and options including reconfiguration of the space, co-development and other strategies to consider for above-ground construction,” Heenan said.
Neighbors, however, would like a timetable. Activist Harry Mattison said the construction site is a dump and he feels his neighborhood is being held hostage by Harvard.
“Harvard bought all of this land. Harvard created this situation that we’re in now,” Mattison said. “So, now, how are we going to find our way out? Both in 50 years and 100 years, but also today while we’re still here.”
The recession and a drop in Harvard’s endowment has prompted the school to cut expenses. Harvard announced in February that work on the science center would be slowed until a decision was made on whether to continue. The university promised then, and reiterated Thursday, to upgrade vacant properties around the construction site, and rent them out.
The stalled Allston project was an issue in Boston’s mayoral election and a rallying cry for one of the Democratic Senate candidates. Even though he didn’t win the primary, venture capitalist Stephen Pagliuca said he will still work to create an innovative cluster in Allston using public and private funding. He said Harvard can’t do this alone.