BY EMILY BEARG
Whether the Law School is headed to Allston or not, it is about to solidify plans for new building projects at the campus here in Cambridge. According to Director of Communications Michael Armini, the Law School is looking to build in the North Yard area as a short-term solution to serve multiple purposes, even if the planned move to Allston goes through relatively soon.
During the Law School’s Strategic Planning Process, which commenced in the fall of 1998 and concluded with a report in December of 2000, the faculty and administration “identified a number of space needs for the school,” according to Prof. Daniel Meltzer, a member of the committee overseeing the possibilities for development in the North Yard.
With the help of Polshek Partners, a professional planning firm that studied the Law School operations and facilities, it was concluded that the Law School would need “over 100,000 additional square feet just to do what it does today adequately,” Armini said.
In addition, some of the new programs adopted under the Strategic Planning Process added further space needs to the existing ones. For example, the Law School’s goal of hiring between ten to fifteen more professors over the next few years will require more office space, as will an increased number of foreign scholars and the new Pro Bono program. Meltzer also described the need for more classrooms, staff offices, space for student organizations and athletic facilities.
In response to the question of why such a project would be undertaken if the Law School is planning an eventual move to Allston anyway, Armini conceded that the Allston move is “at least a decade off and probably more than that.”
In addition, the final decision about the Allston move has not yet been made, nor will it be for at least a year. “This is really independent of all that,” Armini said. “We’ve got to figure out what our options are right away.”
Furthermore, even if the Law School does end up vacating its Cambridge location, Armini noted, “anything the Law School developed could be used by the rest of the University if needed.”
“The Cambridge side of Harvard University is pressed for space,” he added. “Cambridge is not a particularly hospitable environment for new building projects.”
Meltzer added that the Law School would be “unwise to put everything on hold” or waste time “treading water” while there are important issues to be addressed now.
Dean for Administration Julie Englund heads the new committee, which will focus on the feasibility of development in the North Yard area of the campus. “We’re involved in an iterative process to give some more precise estimates as to the square footage needed,” Meltzer said.
An important element of the process entails discussing community concerns about the project with the Law School’s neighbors. Meltzer said the range of sites under consideration for development include the Everett Street garage, Wyeth Dormitory, the frame house at 23 Everett Street, the surface parking space at North Hall, and the building that currently houses Three Aces Pizza.
Meltzer underlined that in the event that the Three Aces building were to be used, “we would work with neighbors to preserve retail businesses,” speculating that the space in front of North could eventually become store fronts.
“These are ongoing discussions,” Meltzer said. “The garage is an eyesore. Wyeth is an eyesore…. They wall off the Law School campus.”
He suggested that the committee envisions “an academic quadrangle of much more attractive buildings,” which would meet the space requirements raised in the Strategic Plan. The dormitory space lost from Wyeth would be compensated for in the new buildings. Meltzer added that such a quadrangle, similar to those of Harvard College, would be more inviting for neighboring residents to walk through.
The committee is currently in the process of interviewing architects, and a decision should be made some time in November. According to Meltzer, the financial resources for the project will be raised through a broader Law School fund drive, although at this point the committee does not have a clear idea of what amount will be budgeted.
Although Meltzer said the committee is trying to move as quickly as it can, factors such as building and engineering requirements, as well as the process for community approval, prevent them from setting a fixed date for breaking ground.
Armini reiterated that this process will take some time, although he hopes the development will be able to address the short term needs of the Law School over the next five to 10 years.