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Local Residents, Planning Board Review K School Proposal

The Kennedy School has submitted architectural renderings of proposed remodeling and expansion of the campus, including the addition of three buildings and elevation of the school's courtyard.
The Kennedy School has submitted architectural renderings of proposed remodeling and expansion of the campus, including the addition of three buildings and elevation of the school's courtyard.
By Daniel R. Levine, Crimson Staff Writer

Kennedy School of Government officials shared the school’s proposal to dramatically remodel and expand the school’s campus with the Cambridge Planning Board and local residents at the Board’s meeting on Tuesday. At the meeting, which drew more than 20 residents, some members of the Cambridge community raised concerns about the impact of the school’s proposed renovations on the surrounding area and nearby construction.

If approved, construction for the more than $100 million project—which includes the creation of three new buildings and the elevation of the school’s current courtyard—would likely begin following Commencement and aims to wrap up by Jan. 2018, according to the Kennedy School’s executive dean, John Haigh.

Haigh opened the discussion Tuesday night by presenting the project’s three primary goals: drawing speakers to the school by creating high-tech buildings, facilitating research and collaboration between faculty members, and better incorporating non-Harvard affiliates.

The Kennedy School has submitted architectural renderings of proposed remodeling and expansion of the campus, including the addition of three buildings and elevation of the school's courtyard.
The Kennedy School has submitted architectural renderings of proposed remodeling and expansion of the campus, including the addition of three buildings and elevation of the school's courtyard. By Courtesy of the Harvard Kennedy School

“We are very much oriented on bringing the public into the campus,” he said. “We are not the Business School. How do we [create] a non-elitist perspective for the campus?”

Haigh said that the proposal will aim to meet this goal by better opening the school’s courtyard to the public.

According to Graham S. Wyatt, a partner at Robert A.M. Stern Architects, the firm that will develop the property, the new architecture will convert a retaining wall on the property’s west side into a passageway between the courtyard and John F. Kennedy Park. The changes, developers said, will also improve the visual appeal of the courtyard’s north entrance from Eliot Street.

“This openness idea that [Haigh’s] mentioning is very much what we’re hoping to improve [and] foster,” Wyatt said.

According to Wyatt, the proposed construction will expand the courtyard from 17,000 square feet to 30,600 square feet. The project will also create a 4,200 square foot glass-enclosed atrium, named the “Winter Garden,” between the new South Building and the Littauer building.

Haigh and Wyatt said that the new plans will improve the community’s experience by eliminating road closures like the one that occurred last week when Vice President Joe Biden visited campus.  Developers plan to create a secure space for receiving dignitaries below the renovated courtyard.

“I’m sure everyone appreciated when the Secret Service shut down Memorial Drive,” Haigh said sarcastically.

Cambridge resident Marilee Meyer, like several other residents who attended, said she had some concerns about the project. She asked whether the University had conducted shadow studies to determine the proposed Gateway Building’s impact on the brightness of Eliot Street. Meyer also said she worries that the entrance under the West Building would open JFK Park to the University rather than keep it “contained.”

Still, Meyer expressed optimism about the plans overall.

“Some of the plans are very clever,” she said.

Citing shadow studies conducted by developers, Pebble Gifford, another Cambridge resident who attended the meeting, also discussed fears about the construction’s impact on Eliot Street.

“[The proposed West Building] totally blocks most of the light on Eliot Street during the spring and fall,” she said.

Tom Sieniewicz, a member of the planning board, said that developers should take the construction on Anderson Memorial Bridge into account when planning the construction process.

“I cannot imagine this being a massive construction site with the bridge as it is today,” Sieniewicz said.

A board member said that the bridge would be completed by June 2015, according to the most recent estimate the board received.

—Staff writer Daniel R. Levine can be contacted at daniel.levine@thecrimson.com.  Follow him on Twitter @danielrlevine.

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