Harvard will delay the opening of its new Science and Engineering Complex in Allston until spring 2021, School of Engineering and Applied Sciences Dean Francis J. Doyle III announced in an email to SEAS affiliates Friday afternoon.
The complex has been under construction for nearly five years. The Allston SEAS campus was originally slated to open for classes in fall 2020, and faculty planned to move into the new building throughout the summer.
Doyle cited the City of Boston’s suspension of construction projects and broader challenges posed by the novel coronavirus pandemic as causes of the delay.
If construction is allowed to resume this summer, Doyle anticipates faculty will begin moving into the building this coming fall, with classes beginning in spring 2021. At this time, however, no definite dates have been set for the resumption of construction or the building’s opening, Doyle said in an interview Friday morning.
“All this depends on both the pandemic and its progression, as well as the construction suspension order for the city of Boston,” he said. “So when that gets lifted, that activates the process, and then we can begin to forecast with greater accuracy.”
Doyle added that a spate of top Harvard administrators — including University President Lawrence S. Bacow, Provost Alan M. Garber ’76, Executive Vice President Katherine N. Lapp, and Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Claudine Gay — were among those involved in making the decision to postpone.
Asked about next steps, Doyle said the delay of the SEC’s opening would lead to “very careful and complicated revisions to our timeline.” Those revised plans will include working out “new schedules for lab and office relocations, course and classroom scheduling, and adjustments to plans for transportation and dining services,” he wrote in his email to students.
“We had a very carefully orchestrated sequence of things that would be triggered by getting an occupancy certificate in May. So now we've got to rethink,” Doyle said in the Friday interview. “We've got to put together some scenarios that have flexibility, that are able to be modified.”
He added that the delay will allow for more planning and an extra semester to solidify the transition to Allston — a silver lining amid the complications and the uncertainty posted by the ongoing public health crisis.
“There were parts of the decision-making that will probably benefit from having a little more time planning. So I think it'll be you know, a bit of a mixed bag,” Doyle said. “We'll have to come up with a brand-new plan, but we will also have an additional semester to think through the transition process.”
He said it is “too early to tell” whether the changes to the University’s plans in Allston will have financial ramifications.
“Obviously the industry will have to recover from this,” Doyle said. “But I would say at this point, there's nothing that's been brought to our attention that suggests any unfortunate financial consequences.”
While he expects some disappointment among SEAS affiliates, Doyle said he hopes that disappointment will be “balanced with people understanding the greater good.”
“I spoke to a lot of the sophomores in particular, who were quite eager to have their first full semester, their full academic year as juniors in the new building,” Doyle said. “But I think there's tremendous understanding at all quarters. This is all about the health of our community, global health — we're taking our cues from health officials.”
Ultimately, he called the postponement “simply a delay.”
“We got to within two months of the finish line, which means that we're very nearly complete, we're incredibly far along in this,” Doyle said.
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