Middle Campus Project Clears Hurdles

Plan undergoing fine-tuning

By Sean Smith
Staff Writer

The Middle Campus Project won significant endorsements from state and local agencies recently, and University administrators are working to secure further official approval for the plan, which will reshape the Middle Campus's southwest corner.

Earlier this month, the project was given conditional approval from the state Executive Office for Environmental Affairs. While ruling that the project is in compliance with state environmental laws, the agency stipulated that the University must submit additional information for its environmental impact report addressing several items concerning traffic and safety, said Associate Vice President for State and Community Relations Paul Guzzi.

Architect's drawing of the student center portion of the Middle Campus Project, as viewed from the Beacon Street-College Road-Hammond Street intersection.

In related moves, the Boston Redevelopment Authority unanimously approved an amendment to the University's master plan which would allow the construction to take place, and the City of Newton Planning Department formally recommended to the Board of Aldermen that the project move forward. Guzzi said the aldermen's Land Use Committee is expected to review the project during April, with the full board likely to hold a final vote on the proposal in May.

"We are on a steady course to clarify questions and build support for the proposal to win approval," said Guzzi, who last week was elected president of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, a position he will assume on June 1. "We were very pleased with the BRA's decision and are confident we can provide the additional information to the EOEA over the next several weeks. Our feeling is that we have presented a strong case in describing the benefits of this project to our neighbors, as well as to Boston College."

Under the plan, three buildings will occupy the site of the current McElroy Commons and its adjacent parking lot: a new academic building; a new, consolidated student center; and a replacement for McElroy Commons. If approved, Guzzi said, the University's goal is to begin the project on or about June 1, with each phase taking approximately 20 months to complete. The University also is considering a plan for the renovation and expansion of Carney Hall as the project's final phase.

The rationale for the project, Guzzi said, is that it will help to better integrate students' extracurricular and academic lives while providing much-needed space to relieve overcrowding in faculty, academic and student facilities. In addition, it will re-route vehicular and pedestrian traffic in ways that will enhance safety and ease congestion on local streets, he said.

Guzzi noted that since the project was proposed last April, he and other University administrators have met about 150 times and have spent more than 350 hours in discussions with state and local officials, and neighborhood representatives. During this time, he added, some facets of the project have changed: The University agreed to reduce the number of daily shuttle bus trips on Beacon Street, for example, and to assist in improving the Lake Street-Commonwealth Avenue and College Road-Beacon Street-Hammond Street intersections.

"We have listened to the community and benefited from our meetings, and made a lot of progress," Guzzi said. "We have worked many hours to provide information and seek consensus during the past year. There is a synergy of interests between Boston College and its neighbors and we are looking to proceed in an environment of cooperation."

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