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Harvard art gallery project put on hold

Residents want more say on plans

Harvard and Boston Redevelopment Authority officials said last night that they would hold off on plans to build an art gallery in Allston, after local residents and politicians spoke against the proposal and expressed concern that they have been left out of the decision-making process.

At an Allston-Harvard Task Force meeting at St. Anthony's School, residents insisted Harvard finalize plans on a proposed 695,000-square-foot science complex before it begins pushing the art project.

"They need to get one shovel in the ground, so to speak," said Jerry McDermott , a city councilor who spoke at the meeting. "People are saying, 'time out.' "

The science complex is proposed for Western Avenue near Charlesview Apartments. Although most community members who spoke last night said they supported the idea of such a complex, if not the specifics, some contended that proposed features such as a child-care center and a gym would be open only to the Harvard community.

Although the science complex has been a bone of contention, the sticking point last night was a proposed 135,000-square-foot art storage facility and museum, which would house art during renovations to the Fogg Museum in 2008 and eventually become a permanent facility.

Although residents were not opposed to a gallery, many said the location, near Barry's Corner, was poor and the community had not been sufficiently consulted, especially so close on the heels of the science complex proposal.

Harvard has been buying Allston land in bits and pieces over the past decade. Throughout the process Harvard officials have been meeting with residents to devise ways to expand their campus with minimal impact on local life. Harvard would like to break ground on the science center as early as this summer.

After last night's meeting, Gerald Autler , the BRA project manager working on the issue, said plans for the art building probably will be postponed, at least until more progress is made on the science center.

"The idea is to put discussions on hold . . . until we've had a chance to flesh out the science complex," Autler said. "There's a broader consensus -- not 100 percent, but a broader consensus -- on the science complex."

Kevin McCluskey , Harvard's director of community relations, was also at the meeting and agreed that gallery talks would be postponed. "We've asked the community to digest a lot," he said. "We will be putting the art discussion back at least a few months, answering key questions with the science project."

Despite the concessions, some community members left the meeting dissatisfied.

"It's not necessarily that this was even the wrong site or the wrong building," said Harry Mattison , a member of the task force. "Harvard has excluded the community from day one."

Like Mattison, McDermott said Harvard has the resources to enhance Allston, but the community must be involved in the process. "This will change the community dramatically and forever," McDermott said.