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Harvard to build long-awaited campus center by 2018

Posted by Matt Rocheleau  November 14, 2013 02:00 PM

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(Michelle Jay / Harvard University)

Views of students passing beneath the new sign after the dedication of "The Richard A. and Susan F. Smith Campus Center" at Harvard University Thursday.

Harvard University officials today announced plans to build a long-awaited campus center that will open in 2018 and will be named after a couple who recently gave an undisclosed, but “significant” amount of money toward the project.

The Richard A. and Susan F. Smith Campus Center will be created from a project to renovate and remodel the Holyoke Center, a five-decade-old, 10-story 360,000 square-foot building centrally-located on Harvard’s main campus in Cambridge, university officials said Thursday.

“The Smith Campus Center will draw members of the university community together and serve as an important common space for everyone to enjoy and use,” said a statement university President Drew Faust. “We are very pleased to be moving forward with planning, and we are eager to engage students, faculty, and staff in the important work of creating a flexible and welcoming campus hub.”

The university announced that the project will be designed by London-based Hopkins Architects. Harvard said that later this month it will launch a planning process that it expects will last about a year and a half and will include gathering community and student input.

Construction is anticipated to start in 2016. University officials declined to say how much the project is expected to cost.

While Harvard does have some common spaces and activity centers around its Cambridge campus, there is not an indoor, central gathering space for the entire university community, officials said. Students, faculty and others at Harvard have for years advocated for such a space.

The university said the new campus center will be a major part of an ongoing, multiyear effort at Harvard to create more common spaces and improve existing ones across campus.

That effort, dubbed the “Common Spaces” program, began in 2009 with the addition of seating, scheduled performances and new food options in Harvard Yard and in the small plaza in front of Dudley House, campus officials said. The program also recently led to the transformation of the Plaza and the opening of Memorial Church’s “porch” in Tercentenary Theatre.

University officials said they expect the new campus center will feature “large, flexible indoor gathering space” for students, faculty, and staff. The building will include food service, lounge, and study areas, along with space for exhibitions, events, and performances. Officials said they expect the first floor will remain open to the public, offering retail and food service options.

Donations for the project have come as part of a multi-year, $6.5-billion fundraising campaign called The Harvard Campaign, which was announced last spring and formally launched in late September, officials said.

The project’s key supporters, Richard Smith and his wife Susan Smith, have donated previously to Harvard and its affiliated institutions, including the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, officials said.

Richard Smith, former chairman and CEO of Harcourt General Inc., is a member of Harvard’s Class of 1946, though he graduated in 1944 due to World War II, the university said.

He also served on both of Harvard’s governing boards, including three years as an overseer and nine years as a member of the Harvard Corporation, from which he stepped down in 2000, a year before the university gave him an honorary degree, campus officials said.

“Other universities … have great campus centers, and they do a wonderful job in enabling students and the whole community to associate with each other in activities and to make friends and to find a place to spend an hour between classes,” Richard Smith said in a statement. “Of all the institutions one can think of, Harvard has been the leading developer of the future leadership of this country, if not the world. To be associated with it has been a great privilege and to support it in a meaningful way … will be a capstone in my relationship with Harvard.”

Matt Rocheleau can be reached at mjrochele@gmail.com. Looking for more coverage of area colleges and universities? Go to our Your Campus pages.

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