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Berklee College of Music is spread out among a number of buildings and rented spaces. This building on Massachusetts Avenue, near the intersection of Boylston Street.
Berklee College of Music is spread out among a number of buildings and rented spaces. This building on Massachusetts Avenue, near the intersection of Boylston Street. (Sean Dougherty for the Boston Globe)

Berklee seeks to build dorm tower and theater

Berklee College of Music plans to seek the city's approval to build a high-rise residence hall and theater complex so that it can become a more residential campus and relieve cramping from a surge in student enrollment, school officials said yesterday.

The college, which will present some of its ideas for the high-rise to a community task force tonight , expects to spend $200 million to $300 million over 10 years on the building complex and other projects. The projects, which would add more dorm space, practice rooms, and other facilities, would double Berklee's physical space.

The proposed 25- to 30-story complex would replace two buildings, the Berklee Performance Center and a two-story academic building at the corner of Boylston Street and Massachusetts Avenue. At 300,000 square feet, the building would cost roughly $120 million and might include two or three towers.

A high-rise, which would include a state-of-the-art performance space and housing for 600 students, would make the college more cohesive and more prominent in the Back Bay, said David Hornfischer, Berklee's senior vice president for administration and finance. The college is spread out among a number of buildings and rented spaces.

"We want to have Berklee's equivalent of Symphony Hall," he said. "It just sends the message that Berklee is the world's leading school of contemporary music."

Berklee officials need the city's approval to proceed and expect to submit an institutional master plan to the Boston Redevelopment Authority in February or March, as required for university development in the city.

Berklee's expansion project, which is in its early stages, is the latest in a series of ambitious university development projects unveiled recently in the Boston area. MIT plans to spend $750 million on several new academic buildings and graduate student housing, and Boston College is working on a campus redesign that includes at least four new buildings. Harvard is planning a long - term, multi billion expansion into Allston.

Berklee officials say the tower wouldn't be completed until at least 2012.

The college has expanded its enrollment by 40 percent during the last 10 years, to 4,000 undergraduate students today, an increase that school officials say stems from the attraction of Berklee's contemporary music program. During that period, Berklee's physical space grew only 14 percent. The college has about 600,000 square feet, or 150 square feet per student, while most colleges have 300 to 400 square feet per student, Hornfischer said.

Only 800 students currently live on campus in three dorms; the goal is to house 2,000.

BRA director Mark Maloney said it is too early to say how the city agency would react to Berklee's proposals.

"We think their plans are bold, and we encourage bold plans, but we are not sure the community will support such bold plans," Maloney said.

The head of a neighborhood business group said the university has chosen a good spot for a tall building, given that the college is near the Prudential and John Hancock towers. Berklee officials envision a building of similar height to the nearby Sheraton and Hilton hotels.

"We love having" Berklee in the neighborhood, said Meg Mainzer-Cohen, president and executive director of the Back Bay Association and a member of the task force scrutinizing Berklee's proposal. "We are a city, and a city needs to grow, it needs to breathe and to meet the needs of its growing industries."

Mainzer-Cohen said she did not object to Berklee building dorms in the neighborhood because its students are more well behaved than many other colleges' students; Berklee students are usually busy practicing and composing and do not have much time to devote to partying.

Once the high-rise complex is completed, Berklee would be half the way to its goal of doubling its campus and housing 2,000 students.

Berklee is also interested in renting or buying spaces in existing properties and future developments that could be built over the Massachusetts Turnpike, in the Back Bay, and the Fenway.

Hornfischer said Berklee would be an attractive buyer or tenant because the school's expansion won't lead to more traffic or higher demand for parking and will remove students from residential neighborhoods. He also mentioned that the Catholic Diocese of Boston and the Church of Christ, Scientist, have land that Berklee is interested in acquiring.

Some smaller projects, which add up to about 50,000 square feet and are separate from the 10-year plan, are already in the works. Berklee will use space newly leased from the Tennis and Racquet Club on Boylston Street for offices and a coffeehouse that will be open to the public, set to debut next fall. Last month, the college finished an information technology center in a space on Massachusetts Avenue rented from the Christian Science church. And in a couple of years, it will move into a building on Haviland Street after the Fenway Community Health Center relocates.

Marcella Bombardieri can be reached at

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