In the wake of approvals by the Boston Redevelopment Authority and the city Zoning Commission, Mayor Thomas Menino (Hon.’01) signed off in February on the Charles River Campus Institutional Master Plan (IMP), clearing the way for a series of strategic changes on BU’s Charles River Campus that will reflect the University’s growth and prominence and improve its standing in the future.
The BRA voted to approve the master plan in January. “We had a very clear, clean process with no opposition whatsoever, and all the votes were unanimous,” says Robert Donahue, BU vice president for government and community affairs. The mayor’s signing of the 10-year development plan means that the University can now pursue the design phase for a series of projects.
“It’s an important milestone because the 10-year plan is a campus-level zoning approval, as opposed to approval building by building, and the approval of projects that are strategically important to the University,” says Gary Nicksa, BU senior vice president for operations. “We spent a year and a half getting to an approved master plan; now we can begin to implement it.” The mayor’s signature doesn’t give BU the go-ahead to actually build the proposed projects, Nicksa explains, but it allows the University to begin the development process and seek architectural designs, which will require city approval.
Approval to proceed with the master plan came after 18 months of review and more than a dozen public meetings, 10 involving BU’s community task force, which considered and approved the plan, Donahue says. One of the first orders of business will be commissioning architects’ designs for a building at 645 Comm Ave, former site of a Burger King, which will house the Rafik B. Hariri Institute for Computing and Computational Science & Engineering as well as the College of Arts & Sciences departments of computer science and of mathematics and statistics.
“After we select an architect, we’ll begin the design process, devise cost estimates,” and pursue financing, including donor support, says Nicksa.
Donahue describes the approval process as “clear sailing and blue skies. We broke down every chapter in the master plan, and as the chapters were being written, we were in communication with the task force, a process that went on a year before we went to city boards.”
Today the most visible project on the Charles River Campus is one carried over from the last BU master plan and included in the new one: the construction of the School of Law’s Sumner M. Redstone Building and renovation of the school’s tower, for which ground was broken this winter.
When it’s implemented, the 2013–2023 IMP will update the look of the Charles River Campus. One project would replace 30–38 Cummington Mall, a building dating from the 1930s that currently houses a science library, with a state-of-the-art research facility that could have a larger footprint, rising as high as 10 stories, according to Nicksa. Among the other projects: integration of two brownstones, including new construction of a 60,000-square-foot addition of academic and administrative space at 130 Bay State Road; an additional 50,000 square feet of academic space at the existing College of Communication building at 640 Comm Ave; and modernizing Myles Standish Hall (610 Beacon St.) and Myles Standish Annex to provide upgraded student housing.
The proposed projects could cost more than $750 million, according to the plan, which also includes improvements to “create a safer and more pedestrian-oriented campus” along Comm Ave and around the BU Bridge. “Each time we do a major project we’ll improve that public realm—soften the landscape and improve pedestrian and bike safety,” says Nicksa. That part of the plan, the Commonwealth Avenue Improvement Project, would also improve traffic operations and vehicle circulation. A pedestrian mall would evolve in tandem with all major construction projects.
The 296-page master plan outlines a vision for the future for a campus that dates back to the 1920s, when the University purchased 15 acres between the Charles River and Commonwealth Avenue. Since then the campus has grown 280 percent in area, with a 600 percent increase in the number of buildings. In 1986 BU was the first educational institution in Boston to implement a master plan in consultation with the local community and the city of Boston.
The master plan ushers the campus into a new era. A lot of the buildings now housing BU departments were built as industrial, residential, or commercial properties, and were repurposed after the University acquired them. “But they weren’t designed for their particular purposes,” Nicksa says, noting that other buildings, like CAS and the School of Theology, “are beautiful, but they were designed for another era.”
Current students are unlikely to witness many changes, he says, because the process is a slow but steady one. “It’s not a simple thing to develop a plan and financing,” says Nicksa. “These are exciting projects because they don’t happen very often.”