Lesley Aims for Friendly Expansion
Lesley Aims for Friendly Expansion
By Karen Klinger
For most of its nearly century-long existence in Cambridge, Lesley University has for the most part flown under the civic radar while its much larger neighbor Harvard developed a reputation as a bully boy willing to throw its weight around to get what it wanted, whether new buildings, new properties or new zoning.
But in recent years, Lesley began a rapid expansion program, raising its profile as it grew to a student body of more than 10,000, moved up Massachusetts Avenue from its main campus in the Agassiz neighborhood to establish a second campus in Porter Square and acquired the Art Institute of Boston (AIB).
In its latest move, Lesley announced its intention to establish a third Cambridge campus with a $33.5 million deal to buy seven buildings on the eight-acre campus of the Episcopal Divinity School near Harvard Square. Lesley President Joseph B. Moore said the university would like to use the EDS facilities for student housing, library services and academic space.
All of this growth led one Porter Square resident who attended a community meeting Lesley held on March 20 to joke that while Harvard may still be the 800-pound gorilla in the city, Lesley has moved up at least to orangutan status.
Moore told the crowd gathered to hear about Lesley's vision of its future in Cambridge that the university intends to expand in a way that benefits both itself and what he called "this community that is a phenomenal asset to us." He said the school wants to keep its neighbors involved and informed as it moves forward with a long-term master plan.
He did not come out and say it, but the message was clear: "Don't worry, we're not Harvard and we're not going to do any chest beating."
While the meeting was called primarily to discuss Lesley's plan to relocate the AIB from Boston's Kenmore Square to a site on Massachusetts Avenue in Porter Square adjacent to the school's University Hall, Moore and others also touched on plans to build two new dormitories on the main campus and ideas for using the EDS facilities.
Those at the meeting seemed to have a generally favorable view of preliminary plans to locate the AIB on the site of the former North Prospect Church, a 19th-Century building the university acquired two years ago. Lesley's architects have proposed moving the church to open space on the south side of the property and attaching two multi-story wings to the building with a glass enclosed space in the middle.
Lesley merged with the AIB, which has about 500 students and 100 faculty members and staff, a decade ago and since then has been seeking to move the school to Cambridge. AIB Dean Stan Trecker said he foresees the relocated institute forging relationships with local artists and involving the public in its activities through exhibitions, classes, an art library and a summer institute for high school students.
For the next phase of the AIB planning, Moore said the university intends to incorporate feedback from the community meeting into schematic designs for the new complex and to intensify talks with city regulators who would have to approve any needed changes or exceptions to the zoning code.
Lesley also gave meeting attendees a look at architectural renderings of the two dormitories it plans to build at Massachusetts Avenue and Wendell Street, currently the site of a rental car lot. The school hopes to break ground on the five- and three-story buildings in June.
As for the Episcopal Divinity School property, Moore said the sale likely will not be finalized until December. He said the university is considering various uses for the new facilities, but one idea is to relocate the graduate school of arts and social sciences from its present site on the main campus to the new EDS campus.