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Just over a year ago, Karen Antman was strolling past the newly opened Medical Student Residence on Albany Street when she spotted students tossing a football in the small courtyard abutting the building. The tight space called for some creative, and potentially dangerous, catches.
“They kept careening into the benches and rose bushes,” says Antman, dean of the School of Medicine and Medical Campus provost. “Clearly they needed a field.”
Coincidentally, there was a wide-open space behind the building, where two additional residences will be built once funding and city approval are secured. Realizing that students needed recreation space immediately, Antman approached John Barton, Medical Campus executive director of facilities, with the idea of transforming the site into a green space that could be used for sports and other activities. Working together, they developed a plan and a budget. Antman says that Barton was the one who dubbed the space the “Field of Dreams.”
“The name stuck,” says Antman, MED’s John Sandson Professor of Health Sciences. “I presented a plan at our Dean’s Advisory Board this spring, and volunteers had funded it by the end of the meeting.”
The donors, who prefer to remain anonymous, covered the $90,000 construction cost, and work was completed in August. The field now boasts an NBA-sized basketball court, a sand volleyball court, and a grass field for sports like soccer, Ultimate Frisbee, and football as well as nine raised vegetable beds, where students can help themselves to fresh produce.
The Field of Dreams offers an essential respite to the stress of medical school. “No matter how wonderful a student you were before, medical school is difficult,” says Angela Jackson, a MED associate professor of medicine and associate dean for student affairs. “It’s more demanding, more anxiety-producing, and just being able to balance life is impossible.” And while extracurricular activities are available for MED students, Jackson says, “there is something about just getting your hands in the dirt and eating the product of your work.”
On a recent autumn afternoon, Barton swipes his BU identification card to enter the gated field. Any BU student with a valid ID has access to the area. So far, Barton says, the University has had no problems with trespassing or vandalism, despite the high-traffic area.
There’s still some work to do on the field. Barton points to the volleyball court, which he’d like to expand in the coming months, and the grass that’s been reluctant to take hold. Still, the field is already popular. On a recent weeknight, students were playing a pickup basketball game on the new court. And the garden, although tired and wilting after a long growing season, produced a nice crop of eggplants, kale, Brussels sprouts, tomatoes, and a wide variety of herbs.
Claire Wang (MED’16) comes to the garden occasionally to pick bell peppers and chilies to mix into stir fries, and she sees people playing basketball nearly every night. Without the field, most students would have to go to a gym, the Charles River Campus, or the South End to play sports, she says. “It definitely allows students to have access to their hobbies.”
Jackson recruited students by email to participate in the garden. Those interested compiled a wish list of fruits, vegetables, and herbs. Some even solicited suggestions from parents knowledgeable about gardening. After pruning their choices, the students presented a list to Jackson, Antman, and Barton, and Barton’s team planted them in early summer.
“This year was trial and error,” says Barton, who envisions planting fruit trees and blueberry bushes in the future.
Although the field is enhancing the quality of life for current MED students, it will eventually be replaced by two buildings that will provide critically needed additional housing. The first will eliminate the raised beds and sand volleyball court; the second will occupy the remainder of the field.
“Given the fundraising required for either building,” Antman says, “I believe we will have most of the field for some time.”