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May 13, 2004 • Volume 12 Number 17

Fr. Leahy on the Archdiocese Land Purchase

Last month's announcement that Boston College has agreed in principle to purchase 43 acres of property on the Archdiocese of Boston's Brighton campus, including the former residence of the Archbishop, generated considerable speculation in the media and public - as well as at BC - about the University's plans for the land.

University President William P. Leahy, SJ, recently sat down with Boston College Chronicle to shed further light on the acquisition and its possible implications for BC.


Chronicle: Father, it's been a little more than two weeks since the announcement of the agreement between BC and the Archdiocese. Can you describe the general reaction you have been hearing?

Fr. Leahy: The responses have been overwhelmingly positive and enthusiastic, especially from alumni. People have said this is not only a great move for Boston College, but also for the Archdiocese.

Two questions are frequent: How are we going to pay for the property and how are we going to use it?

Chronicle: We'll certainly get to those questions, but for the moment perhaps you can put this event in the larger context of Boston College's history. At the press conference on April 20, you likened the Archdiocese agreement to BC's move to Chestnut Hill and the acquisition of Lower Campus in 1949. Can you elaborate on the land purchase agreement's potential significance as compared to those milestones?

Fr. Leahy: When we bought the Lawrence Farm in Chestnut Hill in 1907, it allowed BC to dream and to greatly enhance its programs and facilities. The 1949 acquisition of the reservoir and its surrounding land on what is now Lower Campus also proved to have far-reaching effects for us as an institution. Try to imagine BC without Alumni Stadium, or Robsham Theater, or the residence halls on Lower Campus.

The 43 acres we will obtain from the Archdiocese this year, followed by an additional three acres in 2006, will unquestionably have a profound effect on BC. A university always needs space, because educational needs become more complex, more sophisticated, and having space gives greater options for meeting those needs. Having the land allows us to plan for the future in a more focused, realistic way. There is quite a difference between saying "If we had space" and "Now that we have space."

Chronicle: And, since we do have that space, how will we use it?

Fr. Leahy: It will be several years before we have detailed plans for the use of this property, and we will have to file a new master plan through the City of Boston and the Boston Redevelopment Authority, a process that could take up to 12-18 months. We know we hope to use some of the property for administrative offices, parking and as athletic fields for intramural and club sports, and a baseball field down the road.

Now let me give the long answer. Instead of just moving people across Commonwealth Avenue to the new property, it makes sense for a number of reasons for us to take a wider view, to develop a plan that incorporates the Archdiocese property into a new vision of Boston College.

Before the possibility of acquiring the Archdiocese land became feasible, we were considering various ideas regarding facilities, and now we have additional possibilities. For example, we need to ask where a new student center should be located on campus and what it should include.

In addition, the University is in a major assessment and planning process that will ultimately result in a 10-year plan for BC. We have asked the University community to offer their ideas, visions and dreams of what Boston College would be like in 2013 when it celebrates its 150th anniversary, and one could say the new property increases our ability to dream. But we will have to look at these proposals and decide which ones are the most realistic for us to pursue.

We will also engage campus planning consultants to take a look at our present campus, as well as the new property, and help us decide how to plan for the most effective use of the land.

Chronicle: How will BC pay for the property?

Fr. Leahy: We plan on an aggressive fundraising effort to pay for this purchase so as not to take money from our endowment. It's important to recognize that we must be able to fund this acquisition largely with gifts.

Chronicle: Could we also return to the more immediate plans for the property you talked about, specifically the use of open space for student athletics and recreation? How will that benefit BC?

Fr. Leahy: It befits a national university, one that competes for the best students in the country, to be able to offer opportunities for its students to relax and take part in intramural sports and recreational activities. This aspect of the college experience can sometimes be overlooked, but that doesn't make it any less important.

Chronicle: It's no secret that some residents adjacent to or near the Archdiocese property are concerned about the University's plans. Will BC do any special outreach to keep the community informed and respond to their concerns?

Fr. Leahy: On the day of the announcement, we spoke with local elected officials and that night met with members of the Allston-Brighton Task Force to answer their questions and allay concerns that they might have. We have regular, frequent communication with local officials, community groups and residents and, moving forward, this will be an integral part of our planning process. For example, we have invited all 1,300 residents living near the property - whether they are home-owners or renters - to come to campus for information sessions.

There is a lot of emotion and excitement surrounding this milestone event. It is vital that we consider our needs and opportunities concerning this property, and I know there will be many conversations about it in the months and years ahead.

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