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Mayor Signs Off on BU Master Plan

Way cleared for 10-year Charles River Campus makeover

In the wake of recent approvals by the Boston Redevelopment Authority and the city Zoning Commission, Mayor Thomas Menino (Hon.’01) has signed off 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 on January 13. “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 February 15 signing of the 10-year development plan means that the University can now pursue the design phase for a series of projects.

“It’s a very 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 actual development process and seek architectural designs, which will require city approval.

Approval to proceed with the plan comes 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 Commonwealth Avenue, site of the former 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.

Boston University BU, Boston Redevelopment Authority, Zoning commission, Charles River Campus Institutional Master Plan IMP, construction

BU’s Institutional Master Plan outlines a series of major projects, from academic buildings to student housing to pedestrian malls. Photo courtesy of Boston Redevelopment Authority

“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. Ground was broken for this work 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. In addition to the computational research building and the LAW addition and renovations, projects include: 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.

BU’s Institutional Master Plan outlines a series of major projects, from academic buildings to student housing to pedestrian malls. Image courtesy of Boston Redevelopment Authority

Image courtesy of the Boston Redevelopment Authority

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 dating 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,” says Nicksa, 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,” Nicksa says. “These are exciting projects because they don’t happen very often.”

25 Comments
Susan Seligson

Susan Seligson can be reached at sueselig@bu.edu.

25 Comments on Mayor Signs Off on BU Master Plan

  • Andy on 04.05.2013 at 10:17 am

    Let’s hope BU shows some innovation and daring and leaves behind that tired and phony contextualism that turned Kenmore Square into Disneyland.

    • Oi on 04.05.2013 at 10:31 am

      I don’t even… what? Really?

    • Kyle on 04.05.2013 at 11:58 am

      Are you drunk?

    • Giuseppe on 04.05.2013 at 12:53 pm

      Andy is probably referring to the Hotel Commonwealth facade debacle. The developer used a plastic material for the facade and the design really did end up looking like something from Disney. I went to BU and worked at a restaurant in the Hotel Commonwealth when it first opened. The facade was pretty cheesy.
      http://hotel-online.com/News/PR2003_1st/Feb03_HotelCommonwealth.html

      • Brian on 04.06.2013 at 6:23 am

        If Disney designed and built the Hotel Commonwealth it would have looked better. Even the forced facade reconstruction required by the city did not really save that building.

        BU talks a lot about being a world class research institution – no disputing that. However. Tr architecture on campus should reflect the innovation behind its walls. It doesn’t.

  • BUSM on 04.05.2013 at 10:19 am

    What about the medical campus?

    Boston University Medical School desperately needs some updates. The library looks like something out of the 60s and the entire building itself is worn down and dilapidated. Cabinets that are broken, sinks that don’t get fixed (even after multiple requests). Not to mention that the campus itself is bursting at the seams – dental students, researchers, medical students, masters students, and now a physician’s assistant school slated to open up in a few years, too.

    Quite frankly, it’s kind of embarrassing that a research institution of BU’s caliber is allowed to get away with such old facilities. Renovate the entire building (don’t just stop at the 2nd floor….) and get some permits to expand the campus either horizontally or vertically!

    • Ashley S. on 04.05.2013 at 4:35 pm

      As a recent grad from the GMS department who lived on the Charles River Campus I can’t help but agree! The CRC seems to get an awful lot of attention and renovations while the Med Campus is falling apart. Something has to be done about the main educational building; renovate it, expand it, something.

    • Digger on 04.06.2013 at 8:39 am

      Might help if BUMC students could read. It was the Charles River Campus master plan that up for city approval. The med campus is on a different timetable. See http://www.bumc.bu.edu/about/institutional-master-plan/

      • Hasim on 04.07.2013 at 5:08 pm

        Digger, does it make you feel superior to have responded in such a bratty tone?

        • Oi on 04.08.2013 at 5:13 pm

          There is a significant tendency for people to complain first and read second (or not at all) all over the Internet, and sadly here too. I think some people get tired of it.

  • Incandenza on 04.05.2013 at 12:15 pm

    Still no plan for a better performance space for musicians? We’re content with the septic-scented, acoustically dismal tsai center? And the dilapidated, stiflingly hot concert hall? And the Marshall room with its incessant clanking pipes and road noise? Not to mention those psych-ward classrooms and leaky ceilings…

    Ah, well. Priorities.

  • MAP on 04.05.2013 at 12:24 pm

    Thank you BUSM! I was thinking the same thing the whole time I read this article!
    The Medical Campus is terrible–I can’t possibly enumerate all the necessary upgrades here.

    It is embarrassing and BU can’t expect to keep attracting great students with the facilities and medical “campus” as is. If I hadn’t been living overseas while going through the application process, and therefore unable to visit schools, I doubt I would have chosen BU–it’s the most expensive school I applied to and look at what we get for the money….

    • Aaron L'Heureux on 04.05.2013 at 2:42 pm

      For what it’s worth, BU did just finish working on construction at the MED campus: http://www.bu.edu/today/2012/medical-student-residence-houses-200/. Yes, more work is likely warranted (in many places not on this plan), but they can only do so much so quickly.

      Lose lose situation for them: announce improvements, they’re not doing enough. Announce tuition increases, they’re asking too much. I imagine there is a well thought out plan to specific improvements and would certainly like to read more should it be available (re: motivations for specific projects over others not included).

      • Tom on 04.05.2013 at 7:10 pm

        Before the recession there were plans for a new library/classroon building for the MED campus. That was put on hold and is not included in the new master plan.

  • BU on 04.05.2013 at 1:42 pm

    What! No new library?

  • Freddy D on 04.05.2013 at 1:55 pm

    I feel that the one simple thing that would make the BU Campus a much safer location is strong, and perpetual speed limit enforcement. Do you know the speed limit from Packard’s Corner to Kenmore Sq.? A comprehensive motorist warning system coupled with high tech speed detection and enforcement measures will accomplish two things. 1.Possibly cause drivers to find alternate routes (thus lessening the trips through the Campus)2. Slows EVERYONE down. Oh… The posted speed limit is 30 MPH

    • Aaron L'Heureux on 04.05.2013 at 3:46 pm

      Commonwealth Avenue is a state highway and city evacuation route. There can only be so much done to lessen the traffic along the roadway.

  • poorkid on 04.05.2013 at 2:21 pm

    Let’s raise that tuition even further! $750m is no problem.

  • Sarah on 04.05.2013 at 7:21 pm

    $750 million would go a long way in scholarships…

    • Hasim on 04.07.2013 at 5:10 pm

      The $1B fundraising campaign going on right now is going to do a lot for scholarships.

  • Lauren on 04.05.2013 at 8:49 pm

    How about updating the dismal condition of any of the College of Fine Arts buildings? BU has one of the top Theatre programs in the country despite the awful condition of the theatre facilities on Huntington Ave. There is one classroom in the whole building. And how about a dorm for theatre students that isn’t a 40 minute bus ride away? Talk about a lot of wasted student time and unsafe conditions to get home when the BUS and T stop running.

  • Michael Duda on 04.05.2013 at 9:50 pm

    Depending on the plan specifics, 750M is not necessarily an absurd number. All of the spaces mentioned need major upgrades/rebuilds. I am not quite sure why there is even a semblance of a negative reaction. Something is getting better at BU! Be enthusiastic!

    And the pedestrian-friendly plan is a great addition in a time of need.

    Good work, BU.

  • Gabriel Loterena on 04.06.2013 at 11:24 am

    Danielsen Hall needs some love too.

  • ChillDeals on 04.08.2013 at 5:08 pm

    Great work BU, this certainly sounds exciting. Wondering how our campus is going to actually end up looking; ten years from now. I feel that a similar planning must be done for the medical campus too.

  • undergrad on 07.28.2013 at 11:15 am

    Why are they getting rid of Com Lawn? It’s the best green space on campus with a fountain and the landscaping. It’s one of the few places where BU actually looks like a campus.

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