BC administrators detail Middle Campus Project

Newton Aldermen To Consider Proposal

By Sean Smith
Staff Writer

Boston College administrators expect to begin working this month with the Newton Board of Aldermen's Land Use Committee on the Middle Campus Project, according to Vice President for Administration John T. Driscoll, with a final vote by the full board likely later this fall.

Administrators say the project - which would locate a new academic building, a new, consolidated student center and a replacement for McElroy Commons in the campus' southwest corner - will provide needed classrooms, faculty and student services office space, and meeting rooms. The proposal also includes steps to reduce vehicular traffic in the area and addresses the University's neighbors' other concerns about the project.

The University had anticipated action on the project earlier this summer, Driscoll said last week, but aldermen were forced to delay the vote when the Land Use Committee was unable to complete its review of the proposal before its August recess. Because the committee did not meet last month, he explained, and will require at least two working sessions with University representatives before issuing a report, Boston College elected to continue the process in the fall.

Architect's drawing of the new student center, as seen from the intersection of Beacon and Hammond streets.

"The University agreed to extend the consideration of its proposal," Driscoll said. "If we went ahead, there would have been a gap of several weeks between the Land Use Committee meetings. We felt it would be more productive if the sessions took place closer together under the regular time frame."

Once those meetings take place, Driscoll said, "we look for the full Board of Aldermen to vote on our petition in October," although he added that a precise date has not been determined. To gain approval, the proposal must receive favorable votes from 16 of the 24 aldermen, a two-thirds majority. Work on the project would begin as soon as possible after it is approved and a permit is granted by the city, Driscoll said.

Administrators said the coming weeks also are an opportunity to correct misperceptions about the Middle Campus Project. Vice President for Student Affairs Kevin Duffy said discussion invariably focuses on the student center and its leisure-time or recreational functions. While the structure includes a 500-seat food court, a cafe, a games room and lounge space, Duffy pointed out that it also will house the student computing facility, as well as offices for student volunteer and ministry groups.

Similarly, Duffy continued, the center's 320-seat, multi-use auditorium and the 560-seat lecture hall primarily will serve as venues for student performance groups to rehearse and present concerts, he said, or for lectures, seminars or events which make use of audio and visual aids.

"It's important to remember just what we mean in referring to 'a student center,'" said Duffy. "We see it as a central educational facility, where learning can take place outside of the classroom. The proximity of this center to the new humanities building and other academic buildings, and therefore to faculty, make this a valuable addition to the campus and to the quality of our student life."

Driscoll noted that the project's benefits include a decrease in vehicular traffic. The structure's enclosed loading docks will make it easier for delivery trucks to enter and exit without inconveniencing drivers on Beacon Street, he said, as will the underground reserved-use parking lot. Driscoll said the University also has prepared a detailed delivery management plan, which, together with the facility's large storage space, will reduce substantially the number of trucks making deliveries, especially tractor-trailers.

In addition, Driscoll said, the project will alter the University's shuttle bus service and pedestrian traffic. The Newton and Cleveland Circle buses will be re-routed during the day, reducing Boston College bus traffic on Beacon Street by nearly half.

The project also entails the construction of a foot bridge spanning Hammond Street to conduct pedestrians from Upper Campus directly to the student center, thereby avoiding the intersection of Beacon and Hammond streets.

"We have made an honest effort to provide assurances regarding traffic and safety issues," Driscoll said.

The project already has been given conditional approval from the state Executive Office for Environmental Affairs - which found it in compliance with state environmental laws, but requested more information on traffic and safety issues - and the Boston Redevelopment Authority unanimously approved an amendment to the University's master plan which would allow the construction to take place.

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