Suffolk University shifts core of campus downtown

Suffolk University will build an eight-story complex on Somerset Street and create a public park.
Suffolk University will build an eight-story complex on Somerset Street and create a public park.

Suffolk University, long a controversial neighbor on Beacon Hill, will shift its campus closer to Boston’s downtown and build a $62 million classroom complex that will modernize its academic programs and facilities, university officials said Tuesday.

The real estate moves will result in the sale of two of Suffolk’s buildings on Beacon Hill and remove the noisy student traffic that has often put the university at odds with its residential neighbors. Two other classroom buildings in the neighborhood will be converted into administrative offices.

Meanwhile, Suffolk will build a new, eight-story classroom complex a couple blocks away, at 20 Somerset St., where it will also create a public park on what is now a windswept, empty lot. The location currently hosts an old government office building that will be demolished next year.


“We want this building to make clear that we are committed to providing state-of-the-art facilities for all our students,’’ said James McCarthy
, who took over as Suffolk’s president in February. “It will be designed in a way that is flexible and allows us to react to changes we cannot even imagine right now.’’

Although its classrooms are only moving a few blocks, Suffolk’s shift will center the campus more firmly in the city’s downtown, where the university houses most of its students and its law school.

McCarthy said Tuesday that Suffolk will continue to scout locations for new student residences downtown.

The new building at 20 Somerset will be a sea change for Suffolk’s undergraduates, who now study in 50-plus-year-old buildings that were designed long before the advent of personal computers and online learning.

The new building, designed by the architecture firm Chan Krieger Sieniewicz, will be glass and stone and contain a new dining hall and about 1,300 classrooms.

The classrooms, to be fitted with new digital equipment and other technology, will be used for science courses and for general academic purposes.

Plans for the building were approved by the Boston Redevelopment Authority in 2009, but the project has remained on hold during a leadership change that resulted in the departure of longtime president David Sargent.


Officials said plans for the building have changed very little, although it will no longer house the New England School of Art and Design as originally planned. That program will remain at 75 Arlington St.

Beacon Hill neighborhood representatives on Tuesday applauded the university’s plan to move its campus.

“This is good news for Suffolk’s students and it’s certainly good news for the residents of Beacon Hill,’’ said Steve Young, chairman of the Beacon Hill Civic Association.

The uncomfortable relationship between the school and neighborhood has become more tenuous in recent years, as Suffolk’s enrollment growth added more noise and foot traffic to the area. The university’s enrollment has jumped about 23 percent over the last decade, to 9,192 in the current academic year.

“For the residents in the area, it’s become the equivalent of living on a college campus,’’ said State Representative Martha Walz, a Boston Democrat whose district includes Beacon Hill. “Suffolk’s decision to pull back from the area will improve the quality of life for residents and create a better campus environment for students.’’

The university, which has committed to keep its enrollment at current levels, will sell the Fenton building on Derne Street and the Ridgeway building on Cambridge Street. The future use of those buildings remains uncertain, but some area residents have been looking for locations for an elementary school to serve the neighborhood.

Suffolk will convert portions of the nearby Archer and Donahue buildings into administrative offices, but the buildings will no longer host classes, thus eliminating daily student traffic.

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