Work Beginning on Master Plan
University hires Sasaki to assist in process; advisory committees being formed
By Sean Smith
By this time next year, Boston College expects to have its new master plan - a blueprint for campus construction, renovation and land use - ready and awaiting approval from the Board of Trustees.
This past summer, the University hired the Watertown-based architectural and design firm Sasaki Associates Inc. to assist in developing the plan. Sasaki's previous projects at BC include the construction of Robsham Theater and Conte Forum and the expansion of Alumni Stadium.
During the next 12 months, Sasaki representatives will join University administrators assigned to the project in a series of planning sessions, discussions and open forums involving all constituencies in the Boston College community.
This month will see completion of the project's first phase, which includes inventory analysis of the campus and the start of the outreach campaign to the University community, as project staff met with undergraduates last week. Eleven advisory committees also are being formed to assist in the planning sessions.
In addition, Sasaki has announced three consultants to work on specific aspects of the master plan: BR+A Consulting Engineers, for infrastructure; Geller Devellis, for landscape; and Vanasse & Associates, for traffic, transportation and parking.
Executive Vice President Patrick Keating, the project's co-chair, said Sasaki was the best choice to help the University devise such a comprehensive plan.
"They were chosen because of their expertise in campus planning working with the best academics and universities in the country," said Keating. "The team that they have put together for this effort is world class, with extensive experience in academic campus plans."
Master plans are more than a summary of bricks and mortars and square acreage, say BC and Sasaki administrators, and the one now in formation will be an especially critical document. Its main task is to provide the physical basis for the University's Assessment and Strategic Planning Initiative, a set of broad-based goals and more specific objectives in academics, student formation and other areas that will be finalized later this year.
"If done well, this project will present us with a whole range of options for realizing our academic aspirations," said project co-chair Academic Vice President and Dean of Faculties John Neuhauser. "You need to have not just architects, but visionaries, who can help you to anticipate what the campus environment will be like in 20 to 30 years. Fortunately, Sasaski can provide that kind of foresight."
Added Keating, "We will be seeking the academic perspective throughout this process, and in fact have begun so already with the formation of a faculty advisory committee."
Sasaki Principal Daniel Kenney, interviewed during a campus visit last week, said, "This is clearly an opportunity that comes along once every 50, maybe 100 years. The decisions BC makes during the next year will set a direction for the next few decades, probably more.
"So, as we work together on the master plan, we have to not only visualize what buildings, roadways or other facets of the physical plant might look like. We have to consider what kinds of activities - academic or non-academic - will be taking place on campus, from day to day or week to week, and how to encourage and support these in our design.
"At the same time, we want to preserve and enhance that which makes Boston College Boston College, keeping a link to its history and heritage as it moves into a new age."
BC's development of a new master plan comes at a time when many universities, rather than relying on tuition increases to fund more extensive construction, said Kenney, are turning to multiple-use structure - combining libraries with academic buildings or recreational facilities with campus centers, for example.
"Students' learning patterns - where and how they study - are another major consideration for universities," he said. "People talk, half-jokingly, about students who graduate without ever going to the library, because they can access so many resources via the Internet. There also is more focus on group work and collaboration, so you need to have space to support that."
Kenney said the breadth of the University's strategic plan, together with the recent additions of the 43-acre Brighton Campus - property that formerly belonged to the Archdiocese of Boston - and St. Stephen's Priory in Dover, "make this one of the more compelling projects for national campus planning firms."
A major asset for BC is "the quality of its physical environment, such as its signature buildings like Gasson Hall," he said. "During the past decade or so, the Lower Campus has become an increasingly important presence, what with the new residence and dining halls and, in particular, the 21 Campanella Way administrative building.
"Now, BC has the Brighton Campus, with a significantly different landscape - more woods and flat land. We will need to decide how best to take advantage of those features while also considering the open space, which is of great importance to BC.
"So one of the key facets of the master plan will be to create an effective connection between the Brighton and Chestnut Hill campuses, especially the Lower Campus, and make Commonwealth Avenue a 'gateway,' in symbolic and real terms."
Grounded as BC is in Jesuit and Catholic philosophy, Kenney said, "means an emphasis on educating, and engaging, the whole student. That entails creating opportunities for them to get out of the residence halls and be able to participate in non-academic, formational experiences."
Kenney and project administrators stressed the need for communication with the surrounding community, as well as that of Boston College, as the plan takes shape. In addition to meetings and forums, administrators contemplate establishing a Web site dedicated to the master plan, which would provide updates on the project as well as a vehicle for questions and comments. •