NU intends to grow up, not out

July 13, 2012
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Northeastern University (NU) wants to grow taller, not wider, in its next Institutional Master Plan (IMP).

The university is planning to create more academic space by renovating older buildings and constructing taller buildings within its current boundaries, officials said at the latest IMP Task Force meeting.

NU officials also responded to community concerns over amendments made several years after the last IMP’s completion and how that led to low community involvement during the planning of the controversial Grandmarc dorm project.

“I want to assure you of one thing. There will be no secret deals,” said Ralph Martin, NU’s senior vice president and general counsel. “We’re trying to lay our cards on the table. It’s a new approach and I understand people are cynical.”

An IMP is a comprehensive development plan that describes an institution’s existing facilities, long-range planning goals and proposed projects. The institution must update and renew its IMP periodically and must amend it whenever it adds or changes any project significantly. The IMP serves as zoning approval for all its projects.

The NU IMP process includes the appointment of a new BRA-selected Task Force of neighbors and elected officials. Task Force members hold an advisory position in IMP development. Communities involved in the Task Force include Mission Hill, the Fenway and Roxbury.

The new IMP will not be about expanding NU’s footprint, but instead about creating new nodes throughout campus, officials said during the June 21 meeting.

“The plan is to keep to these constraints,” or current campus boundaries, Tedesco said.

The nodes would be like themed quads or mini-neighborhoods within the campus, comprising of several academic buildings clustered around an open area that serve one subject—engineering, sports, mathematics or the arts—explained Patrick Tedesco, principal at architectural firm Chan Krieger NBBJ.

In order to create these nodes, however, older buildings will have to be renovated, reworked or demolished to make room for new, higher and bigger buildings.

“We are not even close” to guessing at how high the new buildings might be yet, Martin said.

Other areas like parking lots and garages will also be evaluated for construction. A Columbus Avenue lot will likely be the first site to be developed, Tedesco said, creating enough swing space to accommodate students during other construction projects.

“It presents such an opportunity. It seems like a good place to start,” Tedesco said.

According to NU officials, the university currently has a surplus of parking, though that will not mean the master plan will be cavalier about cutting it down.

Projects will also focus on re-orienting and improving NU’s face to Huntington Avenue.

“A good university doesn’t have walls around its edges,” Tedesco said.

Vice President of Community Affairs John Tobin later told the Gazette that while current Task Force members would be expected to participate in advising the university if amendments are required in the future, he said he hopes that would not be necessary.

“The IMP is a slugging process, but you hope that you only reconvene at maintenance meetings” after the IMP is complete, Tobin said. “When you do a master plan, you’re hoping you can get the whole thing done without amendments. The last thing we want to do is go through this whole process again.”

The controversial Grandmarc dorm project, already delayed a year due to community-originated lawsuits, was approved as an amendment to NU’s last IMP in 2010, with review by a previous Task Force.

At that point, very few members of the previous Task Force were involved in the process.

During the meeting, Martin added that, as a result of NU’s goal of becoming a research university in the next decade, the graduate student population is expected to grow while the undergraduate population remains the same.

The next Task Force meeting is scheduled for July 19 [See What’s Up]. For more information, see northeastern.edu/masterplan.

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