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Globe Editorial

Building confidence near BC

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June 19, 2008

BOSTON COLLEGE is taking a giant step today toward improving town-gown relations. As part of an institutional master plan that it is filing with City Hall, the college says it will house all of its 8,600 undergraduates on campus within the next decade. But accord with its Brighton neighbors remains elusive.

BC is launching a $1.6 billion expansion plan aimed at completing a decades-long transformation from a commuter school to a world-class university and theological center. The college wants to provide residential, academic, and recreational experiences that create balanced students and loyal alumni. But some neighbors and local activists fear that BC’s expansion plan will disrupt surrounding communities. They point to the college’s recent purchase of a 16-story apartment building at 2000 Commonwealth Ave., which is now slated to house 560 students, and the 2004 purchase of land from the Archdiocese of Boston in the Lake Street area, where the college intends to phase in dormitories for another 500 students.

Both BC and its neighbors agree that continuing to let unsupervised BC students rent near campus serves neither the healthy development of the students nor the tranquility of the neighborhood. In some cases, frustration with house parties and the like has spilled over to resistance to dorms as well, especially in the Lake Street area. That confounds BC officials, who say they can control their students in dorms and must be allowed to build them if the plan to bring students back on campus is ever to succeed.

There should be room to resolve such issues within the 10-year construction schedule of dorms, new academic buildings, and recreation facilities — as long as BC remains flexible. One such opportunity is on the northeast section of the lower campus, where BC wants to replace 22 dreary modular housing units with a 175-student dorm and a swath of greenspace. Enlarging the dorm and moving up the schedule for its construction could postpone the need to build dorms on the contested former archdiocese site. Such compromises would also smooth the permitting process with the city.

Timing projects in ways that minimize opposition would also give BC time to prove that it can operate its 16-story dorm at 2000 Commonwealth Ave. without disruption to neighbors. That would strengthen the college’s case for eventually building some student housing in the Lake Street area.

The city can help broker a peace, but King Solomon isn’t about to appear on the banks of the Chestnut Hill Reservoir. BC needs to find its own middle course — and win neighbors’ confidence that the school’s expansion won’t come at their expense.

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