Harvard unveils big campus expansion

CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts (Reuters) - Harvard University unveiled plans on Thursday for a multibillion-dollar campus expansion that aims to turn America’s oldest university into one of the world’s top hubs for stem-cell research and other life sciences.

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The plan, years in the making, will give a radical new look to Harvard’s campus over the next 50 years in the most ambitious expansion in the school’s 371-year history.

It calls for a science complex, museum space, new student housing, parks and a public square on more than 250 acres (100 hectares) of land, adding a campus in Boston’s Allston district across the Charles River from its main Cambridge campus.

Harvard, the world’s richest university with an endowment of nearly $30 billion, submitted the “Institutional Master Plan” to Boston officials on Thursday. It stopped short of saying how much it would cost or who would pay for it.

“This is a framework for a 50-year process that we hope will lead to new interdisciplinary study,” Harvard Provost Steven Hyman told reporters by telephone, adding, “We hope it will strengthen Boston’s prominence in life sciences.” Life sciences involve the study of living organisms.

Dubbed the Allston Initiative, the plan would turn industrial land now used as parking lots and truck and rail yards into an urban center with stores, tree-lined streets, bike paths and access to the Charles River, a popular destination for students and tourists.

During the first 20 years of the expansion, Harvard would build 4 million to 5 million square feet of buildings and create at least 5,000 jobs, university officials said.

Construction in Allston could begin this summer when Harvard hopes to break ground on a 500,000-square-foot (46,450-square-metre) science complex that will house the school’s stem-cell researchers and other institutes.

The science complex, university officials said, would be the nucleus for new interdisciplinary research and is expected to go a long way toward boosting Boston’s economy by encouraging partnerships with biotechnology firms that may displace the region’s long-fading manufacturing base.

Former Harvard President Lawrence Summers made the expansion a priority and some prominent alumni have said they may close their wallets now that he is gone.

But Christopher Gordon, chief operating officer of the Harvard University Allston Development Group that oversees the planning, said: “We are still working on the financing plan and it will be a mix of Harvard funds and philanthropy. We are seeing quite a bit of excitement on the donor side.”

Hyman said Harvard did not plan to admit significantly more students whose tuition might help pay for the project.

Harvard has roughly 19,500 students, of whom about 7,000 are undergraduates. Most of them will have graduated by the time the project is finished.