Grand expansion at BC

$1.6b plan calls for faculty increase, massive construction

A quadrangle and walkway on BC's middle campus will link the area to other campuses. A quadrangle and walkway on BC's middle campus will link the area to other campuses. (Anderson Illustration Associates)
Email|Print| Text size + By Peter Schworm
Globe Staff / December 5, 2007

Boston College plans to spend $1.6 billion over the next decade to expand and rebuild its Chestnut Hill campus, bolster its faculty by 15 percent, and create a dozen academic institutes in a far-reaching effort to vault the Jesuit college into the top echelon of the nation's universities.

The 10-year master plan, the most ambitious in the college's history, features $700 mil- lion in new construction projects, including four academic buildings, a student center, a recreation complex, and dormitories for 600 students to allow more undergraduates to live on campus.

The blueprint, made available to the Globe yesterday and presented at a public meeting last night, also calls for a sweeping expansion across Commonwealth Avenue into Brighton, on 65 acres the college has acquired from the Archdiocese of Boston. Residents have expressed concern about the potential impact of the Brighton aspect of the plan as details have emerged over the past several months in a series of public meetings with college officials.

College leaders described the initiative as the most significant in the school's 144-year history, the culmination of two years of wide-ranging discussions about the college's future. To help finance the undertaking, BC will launch a $1 billion fund-raising campaign, by far its largest ever.

Now 35th among universities in the influential US News and World Report rankings, BC hopes the massive investment will help it become a national leader in liberal arts education and the world's leading Catholic university.

"This will clearly enhance our academic standing," the school's president, the Rev. William P. Leahy, said in an interview on campus yesterday. "It will help a great university become greater."

The full development of the former archdiocese property, which the college calls the Brighton campus, will increase the traditional 120-acre campus by more than 50 percent.

"We've been land-starved for a long time, and we realize we can't stand still any longer," Leahy said. "With more space, we can substantially extend our reach as an institution."

But Brighton neighbors said plans to develop the quiet, wooded seminary land, including dorms for 500 students and a 1,500-seat baseball field, will bring the college to their doorstep.

"What's going to happen is that Allston-Brighton is going to turn into a college campus," said Alex Selvig, who lives beside the archdiocese property on Lake Street.

Selvig said the college's filing with Boston officials would galvanize neighborhood opposition.

"Now that we have a official plan, we can start fighting it officially," he said.

The Brighton section of campus would also include an athletic field house, a softball field, the relocated McMullen Museum of Art, administrative offices, and a 500-space parking facility. The college will also convert former archdiocesan buildings into a new school of theology and ministry, and build housing on Foster Street for faculty and graduate students from the Weston Jesuit School of Theology, which will join BC next summer.

The college will file the plans with the city today. A task force of community residents appointed by Mayor Thomas Menino will review the blueprint in the coming months and will report to the Boston Redevelopment Authority, which oversees major college expansions. Jessica Shumaker, a BRA spokeswoman, said the agency will review the plan's impact on surrounding neighborhoods rigorously.

Recently elected City Councilor Mark Ciommo, who represents the Allston-Brighton district near Boston College, said in a statement that "our community is being squeezed by institutional expansion" and urged the college to heed community concerns during the review process.

Leahy said the college hopes to start building next fall, and will begin by carving out playing fields on the former archdiocesan property. Many of the larger projects, the student and recreation centers, would not be built for at least seven years, he said.

At 285,000 square feet, the student center would be large enough to accommodate the college's 230 student organizations and dining and conference rooms, officials said.

The four new academic buildings, which would be built in the central part of the main campus, will house the humanities, the graduate schools of social work and nursing, and the sciences. The college would tear down outdated dorms, a 47-year-old student center, and a 35-year-old recreation center.

"There will be extensive construction on campus for at least the next seven to 10 years," Leahy said. He added the college would stagger construction and would borrow substantially to finance the project, but would not tap its $1.7 billion endowment or raise tuition beyond normal increases.

The college plans to add 100 more full-time faculty to its current ranks of 675 to reduce its student-faculty ratio - currently at 13 to 1 - and strengthen research and teaching. It would create more than a dozen new centers, including a school of theology and ministry, a research institute on aging, and a national think tank on Catholic education. The centers will emphasize collaboration across disciplines and focus on enhancing students' social and spiritual development.

"We hoped to build on our existing strengths to take aim at contemporary problems," Leahy said. "And we want to integrate the academic, religious, and social aspects of students' education."

Mike Naughton, the chairman of the physics department who was closely involved in the development of the 10-year plan, said a new integrated science institute would spur breakthroughs by bringing together researchers from different fields.

"Boston College has always had a fabulous reputation as a university, but many of us have always felt that one of the things that is really missing is significant strength in the sciences," Naughton said. "Some of the most exciting science and technology is at the borders of traditional disciplines. I want biology students in my lab, and my students in the chemistry lab."

BC officials said they have adapted the proposal in response to neighbors' concerns, for example, by locating dormitories farther from residences and reducing the size of the baseball stadium. But some neighbors said they remain frustrated by the prospect of living near potentially rowdy college students.

"Their continuing insistence on putting dorms on the former St. John's Seminary land, instead of their main campus, shows that BC favors confrontation with the community over cooperation," said Michael Pahre, a Foster Street resident.

College officials said the new dorms would bring more than half of the roughly 1,200 students now living in area apartments back onto campus. The college does not plan to increase its enrollment from the current 9,000.

"Having students live on campus is a big plus for their own development, and the sense of connection on campus," Leahy said. "And it reduces the friction with the neighbors."

BC hopes to build a pedestrian overpass at Commonwealth Avenue to unify the campus so the roadway "is not a barrier, but a seam," Leahy said. The train stop would be moved closer to Cleveland Circle to reduce traffic at the junction of Lake Street and Commonwealth Avenue.

Rosie Hanlon, a member of the Boston College task force that has been reviewing the plan, said she and other neighbors are pleased that students will move back on campus, but never expected the campus might move so close to their homes. "We have to be careful what we wish for," she said.

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