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Allston residents angry over delay in upgrades

Harvard to improve area around stadium

As Harvard University and Allston residents grapple over the university's sweeping plans to expand across the Charles River, some neighbors remain miffed over a long-neglected stretch of North Harvard Street next to the school's football stadium.

A decade ago, Harvard pledged to replace the sidewalk and a chain-link fence bounding Harvard athletic fields, as well as plant dozens of trees along the road, which runs from the Charles River into Allston.

Last month, neighbors complained that no trees had been planted, while the crumbling sidewalk and rusted fence remain, and the city agency overseeing Harvard's expansion plans ordered the university to make the promised improvements immediately. They have not yet done so, and for some neighbors the university's inaction symbolizes a broader indifference to neighborhood concerns.

Tim McHale, a longtime Brighton resident, said neighbors are frustrated they have not received any word of when work might begin.

"The scope of work, the construction schedule, the timetable, we've seen none of that," he said.

Kevin McCluskey, Harvard's director of community relations, said yesterday that university officials were working closely with the Boston Redevelopment Authority, which reviews large development projects, to begin making the improvements in the next few weeks.

"As we've indicated, we're taking the necessary steps with the city to have those issues resolved," he said. "Folks can expect to see those improvements in the coming weeks. We're going to clean it up and green it up."

McCluskey defended the delay, saying the work required planning and notice.

"You don't go out overnight and rip up a sidewalk," he said. "If you look at projects of this kind," the current plan to make improvement within a few weeks "is pretty quick."

McCluskey said the university plans more substantial improvements to the street, which will coincide with the school's Allston expansion plans, over the next several years.

Two spokesmen for the Boston Redevelopment Authority could not be reached for comment. The agency said last month that Harvard received permission to delay work promised a decade ago but should have completed the improvements by last summer. The agency urged Harvard to begin the beautification work right away.

The redevelopment authority said that Harvard agreed to make far more extensive improvements of public space than what it promised a decade ago in its master plan.

The continuing differences come as Harvard officials and Allston neighbors meet weekly to discuss Harvard's plans for a science complex on Western Avenue near the intersection with North Harvard Street. Harvard is also planning long-term expansion in Allston that would include arts facilities, student housing, and new homes for the schools of education and public health.

"No action, no timetable, no details, no apology," said Harry Mattison, an Allston activist. Mattison said the lack of improvements is making neighbors wary of Harvard's pledges on current expansion plans.

Paul Berkeley, president of the Allston Civic Association, said the delay was a relatively minor issue given the scope of Harvard's expansion plans.

"I think people are using this to suggest that Harvard hasn't lived up to its commitments to the neighborhood, but the real test of that is how they work with us over the science complex," he said. "There's so much more at stake here, I hate to get all hung up on the fence."