By Alexi White, Opinions Editor, MPP ‘13
Imagine there were a bridge connecting Taubman to Belfer. Imagine a new building where the courtyard parking lot sits. Imagine the courtyard itself were raised to ground level and a central hub connecting all of HKS placed beneath it. These are just some of the ideas that have been floated as part of the seven-month task of creating a new campus master plan for the Kennedy School.
Nearly three months in, Associate Dean for Operations Timothy Bowman thinks things are going well. The analysis phase is wrapping up, and the second phase – scenarios – has already begun. A final draft of the master plan is expected at the end of March 2012, complete with landscape, building, circulation and donor plans, as well as projected costs of any proposed projects.
“We’ve had a lot of positive engagement form all the stakeholders,” Bowman said. “We’re generating ideas about how we might begin to look at things differently.”
It’s no secret that space is at a premium. Since the Littauer Center was dedicated in 1978, enrollment has tripled but space has not. An internal space utilization study completed in 2008 called the campus “hyper-utilized” and included preliminary ideas for expansion with a price tag of nearly $100 million. The administration is betting that the economy has improved to a point that the process can now move forward.
With offices and meeting rooms currently taking up over 80 percent of campus, increasing the amount of study space, common space, and large classroom space has emerged as a top priority. The recent online survey of student space needs returned complaints that the lack of library and other student meeting spaces is forcing students off campus to places such as Lamont Library and Crema Cafe. There is hope that a combination of creating new space and retooling what already exists will alleviate this pressure.
How to build a sense of community is one of the chief issues driving the planning process. The forum is often referred to as a model for the concept of multi-use space that organically connects people.
“It can be as simple as where we put food to bring people together,” Bowman said. “While we know we need more space, we don’t want to lose the benefits of bringing talented people together.”
The project is also opportunity to re-evaluate long-standing assumptions of how to design classroom space and office space. Universities are increasingly moving toward classrooms with moveable chairs and tables that provide flexibility in teaching and learning methods. Similarly, transparent glass and open spaces can encourage interaction and spontaneous collaboration within a traditional office environment.
A recent open forum on the campus master plan gave students a chance to voice their opinions on these and other issues.
“I think the office space is really important,” commented one student. “You go down these dark hallways where faculty hide. The most radical thing that needs to be done is to tear out those offices. Faculty are not in those five days a week.”
Other students asked for a place on campus for a quiet cup of coffee with a friend, or fewer computer terminals and more printing centers. The campus master plan will address these and countless other details of HKS operations, from which entrances to open and when to whether a volleyball court is a good use of courtyard space.
The administration is regularly consulting with student leaders as the planning process progresses. KSSG President Sherry Hakimi is serving as a student representative on the student space focus group, one of five focus groups providing feedback throughout the planning process.
“Our opinions are valued,” Hakimi said. “I spoke about how space creates a community. Because classroom space is so limited and class schedules are so different, HKS students can’t get a sense of organization in their lives.”
Although nothing is official, Hakimi said efforts are already underway to fundraise for a new building between Taubman and Rubenstein.
Students often grumble that perhaps HKS grew too big too fast in its pursuit of tuition revenue. Bowman disagreed, citing the school’s desire to make a greater impact on the world as the primary driver of enrollment growth. He was clear that enrollment is staying at its current level for the foreseeable future.
“There are no plans for the Kennedy School to grow enrollment or to significantly grow faculty or staff,” he said.
As for current facilities, Bowman believes HKS is in really good shape from a structural perspective, but some interiors could use a facelift.
“A lot of our classrooms are tired and old. Starr, for example, has missing seats, ripped carpet – it’s just not a particularly pleasant place to learn and to teach. Classrooms are a high priority for us,” he said.
Political calculations will also play a role in the final plan. Nothing can move forward without approval from the University and the City of Cambridge – and the local community is particularly sensitive to Harvard’s further expansion. Current zoning rules allow significant room to grow, but there are some restrictions on building higher or lower.
HKS sits on the site of an old MBTA train yard that was covered in six feet of concrete. Breaking it could cause environmental problems since no one knows what might be found underneath.
Bowman also said the foul odor sometimes detected near Rubenstein is the result of fermenting peat and is not harmful.