Land Court trial

B.C. Makes The Case For The Middle Campus Project

By Michael Seele
Chronicle Editor

Top Boston College administrators laid out the case for the proposed Middle Campus Project in Massachusetts Land Court last week as the trial contesting the City of Newton's rejection of the project commenced.

"We had a great week," said Associate General Counsel Joseph Herlihy. "Our witnesses have performed extremely well and their testimony has held up under cross examination very well. We are building an impressive record for the trial and we are getting our entire case into evidence."

The trial has run past the week allotted in the court docket and will not resume until more time can be scheduled, which may not be until the summer, Herlihy said. Boston College has witnesses who have not yet testified, and Newton has yet to present its case.

Computer-generated image showing the proposed student center, as viewed looking west on Beacon Street.
The trial - in which BC is appealing the Newton Board of Aldermen's 1996 decision to deny a special permit for the Middle Campus Project - began on March 30 when University Chancellor J. Donald Monan, SJ, testified about Boston College's mission and the educational philosophy behind it. He also discussed his involvement in the decision to propose the project when he was University president.

Executive Vice President Frank B. Campanella, Vice President for Student Affairs Kevin P. Duffy, Academic Vice President and Dean of Faculties William B. Neenan, SJ, College of Arts and Sciences Dean J. Robert Barth, SJ, project architect Ed Tsoi and Northwestern University student center Director William Johnston also testified on behalf of the University.

Campanella testified on the University's planning process and how the decision was reached to propose the Middle Campus Project. Siting the student center and academic building at the corner of Beacon Street and College Road is important if Boston College is to meet the challenges it faces heading into the 21st century, he testified.

The University firmly believes that construction of the facility is crucial to Boston College's ability to attract the nation's best students in an increasingly competitive higher education environment. It also will provide faculty office space and classroom facilities needed to improve conditions for current faculty and to attract the best scholars and teachers to Boston College in the future.

Combining a new academic building - Monan Hall - with a student center that will replace McElroy Commons is rooted in the Jesuit philosophy of cura personalis , or "care of the whole person." By siting academic, dining and co-curricular activity spaces in close proximity, administrators aim to foster faculty-student interaction outside the classroom, thereby enhancing the educational experience of Boston College students.

Monan Hall would include 233 offices for faculty members and staff of the English, Theology, Classical Studies, Philosophy and Music departments. It also will feature a 500-seat auditorium, 15 seminar rooms and seven lecture halls, as well as meeting and conference space, network rooms, study lounges and a faculty lounge.

The other building is the student center, which will be constructed in two phases, with the second phase replacing McElroy Commons, the current student center. For a long time, McElroy has not provided adequate student center space for the modern Boston College. The facility will address many needs: office space for student service administrative departments, such as the University Chaplaincy, and the Dean for Student Development; offices for student groups at the undergraduate and graduate levels; dining facilities for students and faculty; an expanded Bookstore and mail facilities; a computing center; meeting rooms; music and performance arts practice rooms; a copy center; lounge and recreation areas; a small performance area; and an enclosed loading dock area and underground parking facility.

Duffy, in his testimony last week, addressed the importance of closely linking the academic and non-academic aspects of university life in the project. Fr. Neenan and Fr. Barth touched on the pressing need for academic space on campus and how the project would solve that problem.

Tsoi's testimony concerned the proposed Gothic-style structure itself and why it is appropriate in scale and design for the campus and the surrounding area. Though some neighbors and city officials have objected to the structure's size, much of the four-story student center will take advantage of the land's natural grade and be built below street level. From the corner of Hammond and Beacon streets, only the top two floors will be visible; four floors will be visible only from the area of Beacon street where the campus grade is flush with the road.

In his testimony, Johnston outlined the role student centers play as important parts of the educational missions at major universities. He noted that the elements in the proposed center are modest by national standards.

Herlihy said that while the University had hoped to conclude the trial in the six allotted days, he is more concerned that testimony be thorough. He noted that former Vice President for Administration John T. Driscoll has yet to testify, and that BC will call Newton Planning Department Director Susan Glazer as a witness. The Planning Department had recommended approval of the project, and Glazer has questioned the restrictiveness of the Newton zoning ordinance as it applies to Middle Campus. As part of its case, BC is challenging the legality of that ordinance.

"We can't try to abbreviate our case to expedite the schedule," he said. "We bear the burden of proof in this trial and it's extremely important that we get our full case into the record."

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