The united way
By Jessica Ullian
Many BU alumni returning to the Charles River Campus these days are finding a very different University from the one they knew as students.
At the former site of the Nickelodeon Cinema, remembered for its B-list films and complimentary mints, a state-of-the art scientific research facility nears completion on Cummington Street. The Commonwealth Armory, which until 2002 hosted concerts, sports events, and University ceremonies, has been replaced by the emerging John Hancock Student Village and Harry Agganis Arena along Commonwealth Avenue. And just up the street near Kenmore Square, BU’s first residence exclusively for graduate students has a home at 580 Commonwealth Ave.
Since the 1970s, the University has added nearly eight million square feet of building space. Major projects have included the Arthur G. B. Metcalf Center for Science and Engineering, built in 1983, the School of Management’s Rafik B. Hariri Building, with its soaring atrium and modern architecture, which was completed in 1996, and the Photonics Center, constructed in 1997. But the past few years have seen the largest burst of growth in the school’s history.
“During this recent three-year period, we have had over $330 million worth of projects under way at the same time,” says Richard Towle, senior vice president. “We’ll really be bringing some new life to campus, in a cohesive way.”
The ongoing construction projects serve a variety of BU’s interests, from providing state-of-the-art research facilities for faculty to offering students one of the best collegiate recreation centers in the country. Above all, they propel the University toward one of its long-term goals: a unified campus with a central meeting place.
The most prominent campus project is the highly anticipated $250 million John Hancock Student Village, which includes the Agganis Arena, the new Fitness and Recreation Center, and the Student Village Apartments that opened at 10 Buick St. in 2000. The complex, on the former site of the armory, was planned for two decades, according to Towle, and its construction signifies a new era of upscale residences and top-notch sports and recreation facilities at the University. An 80,000-square-foot track and tennis center on nearby Ashford Street was built in 2002, and additional residence halls are on the agenda.
“The arena is going to be one of the finest college hockey venues in the country,” says David Flynn, director of major construction. “And the rec center is just going to be magnificent; rec centers on college campuses have become a real focus of student life.”
The centerpiece of the 10.2-acre site is the 6,200-seat arena — expandable to 7,200 for basketball and 8,000 for center-stage events — which will be home to several Terrier sports teams and available for public concerts and performances as well. The neighboring recreation center offers more sports and fitness options, including two gymnasiums with seven basketball courts, a competition pool and a leisure pool, and a climbing wall, as well as a variety of meeting and performance spaces, such as a black box theater and a dance space. Two more high-end residence halls — like the Student Village Apartments offering river views plus network connections and the other comforts of dormitory life — are planned, and the facility includes underground parking.
Construction crews are currently installing the arena’s seating, scoreboards, and concession equipment, and are on track to meet a crucial deadline — the men’s ice hockey team’s first game in the new rink on January 3, against the University of Minnesota. The Fitness and Recreation Center will open officially in March.
The University’s transformations are not exclusively centered on its 15,000 undergraduates, however. While the John Hancock Student Village may have the most dramatic effect on student life, the Life Science and Engineering Building, scheduled for completion in March, is expected to assist the University’s science faculty in continuing the trend toward interdisciplinary research that has helped to establish the bioinformatics and nanotechnology programs. The 10-story building is organized by research interests, rather than by departments, and will include the CAS departments of biology and chemistry and the ENG department of biomedical engineering and Bioinformatics Graduate Program.
“That was the motivation to build this building — to have a place where folks from different departments, but with similar research lines, would be closer together,” says Paul Rinaldi, director of space management. “It’s the first building we have in the sciences that is not arranged by the traditional department structure.”
The $83 million facility will also provide a home for the new biomedical engineering center, funded through a $14 million Whitaker Leadership Development Award received by the University in 2001.
Several other changes have been visible on the Charles River Campus this past year: the apartment building at 580 Commonwealth Ave., opened this summer, is the first designated solely for graduate students. With 220 studio and one-bedroom apartments, it is intended to foster a sense of community. And to serve the growing population of Jewish students — “and their friends,” notes Rabbi Joseph Polak of BU Hillel — the Florence and Chafetz Hillel House on Bay State Road will offer nearly three times the space that the current Hillel occupies. The new facility, named for benefactors Leonard Florence (SMG’54, Hon.’01) and Irwin Chafetz (CAS’58), is expected to open in November and features five floors of study space, dining areas, worship rooms, and meeting areas.
“It’s just very, very beautiful, probably the best views of the Charles on campus,” Polak says. “We wanted something that was just really very continuous, in spirit and in looks, with the rest of the University.”
The construction projects that have dominated campus for the past three years should all be finished by the end of the 2004-2005 academic year, but University officials have more in store. Long-term goals include a new science and engineering library, new computer-science facilities, and a new School of Law building. The projects are barely visible on the horizon at this point — Towle calls them “dreams” at the moment — but plans for the future are a constant priority.
“We are always pursuing ways to improve our campus,” Towle says.
Other upcoming projects have put the institution on a national scale: last year Boston University Medical Center was selected to build a national biocontainment lab. The National Institutes of Health awarded BUMC $128 million for the National Emerging Infectious Disease Laboratory, which will research diagnostics, vaccines, and treatments against infectious diseases. Medical Center officials filed plans for the building in August, and are currently awaiting city and state approvals. The lab will be a part of the growing BioSquare medical research park in the South End, which has been under development since 1992; the park’s third lab and research building, at 670 Albany St., was “topped off” in a ceremony last month.
Locally, the focus remains on work that will serve both BU and the city that surrounds it — a principle considered in the University’s three master plans, developed since 1986 in collaboration with the Boston Redevelopment Authority. When the Agganis Arena opens to the public, Towle says, it will provide a new midsize performance space for any outside organization wishing to use it. The changes to Kenmore Square launched with last year’s opening of the Hotel Commonwealth — expanded sidewalks, brick crosswalks, and a new bus shelter are all planned — will continue to ensure that Boston, and not just BU, benefits from the University’s changing skyline.
“Our first name is Boston,” Towle says. “And we should be of service to the Boston community.”