As workers begin the final stages of construction at 224 Western Ave., the future home of the Harvard-Allston Education Portal, many community members said this week they are excited for what they see as the potential for extended programming and an enlarged footprint for the Portal in the neighborhood.
Since its founding in 2008, the Portal has drawn widespread praise from Allstonians, who University records show have taken advantage of its ongoing mentoring programming and faculty lecture series in modest numbers.
The new space will continue to hold these events, but will also include a new art gallery, a flexible performance arts space, and an “innovation studio” which will serve as the classroom of the new “AllstonX” program—a combination between in-person faculty-led discussions and online courseware from HarvardX. University administrators are billing the $8.25 million project as “transformative,” and feature it as a key piece of their community benefits package for Allston.
The project “resets the notion of what a communal space can be for a neighborhood,” Ed Portal Director Robert A. Lue said in August. He could not be reached for comment this week.
According to Carol Ridge-Martinez, executive director of the Allston Brighton Community Development Corporation, many Allstonians are excited about the added value an initiative like the expanded Portal will bring to their community.
“It’s a quality of life amenity for the neighborhood,” Ridge-Martinez said. “It will make Allston and Brighton more attractive.”
Long-term Allston resident John A. Bruno, who attended a faculty lecture at the current Ed Portal earlier this week, agreed, saying that programming at the new Portal enters “uncharted territory.”
“I think the Ed Portal has performed above and beyond what everyone expected and now they’re moving and the expectation is at another level,” Bruno said.
Bruno is one of the roughly 1,300 people who the University says took part in one of the 50 events or programs held at the Portal between Sept. 2013 and Sept. 2014. In total, the Portal counts more than 2,200 residents of Allston and Brighton as members and has long considered itself as a space for their use.
Since 2008, 400 K-12 students have also taken part in the Portal’s hallmark mentorship program, which is staffed by Harvard undergraduates. The program, which was originally geared toward Allstonians, welcomes students from two Allston schools, Jackson-Mann K-8 School and Gardner Pilot Academy, that are part of Network D of the Boston Public School System. The Portal also hosts monthly principal meetings and a leadership program for minority boys, according to Network D Superintendent Cheryl Watson-Harris.
Still, for all the optimism surrounding the Portal’s move and expansion, some Allstonians said they are skeptical and that Harvard may be over-stating the implications of the project.
“I’m not sure what all that is going to amount to,” Allston resident Brent C. Whelan ’73 said of the move. “[Harvard is] building on a lecture program that has been going on for years [which is] a way of offering cultural value to the community. But transformative, it is not.”
The new Ed Portal space is slated to open in February.
—Staff writer Karl M. Aspelund can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @kma_crimson.
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