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Construction Projects By Boston Colleges to Furnish Jobs, Housing

By Marcella Bombardieri
THE BOSTON GLOBE

A new residential tower could rise 30 stories over the Back Bay. A sprawling complex would buzz with hundreds of scientists in Allston, and a sleek glass-and-limestone business school would fill out the banks of the Charles.

These projects — at Berklee College of Music, Harvard University, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology — are among about two dozen new buildings on the drawing board at universities and colleges in the Boston area.

In the next decade, construction on eight college and university campuses will create thousands of jobs and alter the Boston landscape. The plans — some recently unveiled, others under construction — call for building more than 5 million square feet, according to a Globe tally of available figures from the schools. They would cost well over $1.3 billion, a price tag that does not include Harvard’s or Boston College’s proposals because they would not provide cost estimates.

“Things are changing in our city, and I think changing for the good,” said Mayor Thomas M. Menino. Universities “are bringing new energy to this city. The possibilities for development are just untold, you can’t even imagine what they are going to be.”

Boston-area colleges large and small are taking advantage of their wealth, their rising national reputations, and their expanding research programs to undertake historic levels of growth.

They have also been pushed by the city of Boston to house more students on campus and are driven by market forces to improve amenities for students and expand research facilities.

New residence halls would house an additional 6,000 students.

But the university building boom, while alleviating town-gown tension in some areas, has increased it in others.

Some residents worry that high-rise dorms could erode the character of their neighborhoods, and others oppose more development because they say tax-exempt universities already place too much of a burden on the city’s budget.

Boston has not seen such a rash of university development since at least the 1960s, said Richard M. Freeland, former president of Northeastern and a historian of higher education. Today, he said, local colleges are thriving to the point that they can finance hundreds of millions of dollars for construction.

BC and MIT are each working on major campus upgrades with at least four new buildings on existing land, for a variety of purposes including housing and research. Harvard is beginning what promises to be a decades-long expansion into Allston, with a focus on science, professional schools, and cultural spaces. Northeastern, Suffolk University , Boston University, Emerson College, and Berklee are building or planning to build new dormitories.

For the most part, they are adding space to house more students on campus, rather than to expand enrollment.

Civic leaders say that while higher education has long been one of Boston’s strongest economic sectors, it has become all the more crucial as Boston has lost much of its status as a major corporate headquarters. Gillette, FleetBoston, and John Hancock were bought by out-of-town corporations.

In 2002, the city’s major research universities employed 50,750 people, a study found.

The building boom will create thousands of short-term construction jobs and thousands more permanent skilled and unskilled jobs, according to Globe estimates based on formulas developed by Appleseed, a New York-based economic development consultant company that has done similar studies for the Boston Foundation and Harvard.

Colleges’ growth also indirectly spawns new businesses, civic leaders say.

MIT’s new $210 million cancer research building will house at least 400 biologists, engineers, and their support staff working to develop new drugs and devices.

Harvard’s short-term plans include about 1 million square feet of research facilities, which could lead to a steady stream of discoveries and spark the creation of eight to 10 start-up companies each year, according to Appleseed’s formulas.