October 18, 2019

The renewal of a century-old building encompasses some big changes. There’s the overhaul of the building’s electrical, plumbing, and climate control systems, the remodeling of entire floors, and, for our project, the buildout of a 3,200 square-foot addition.

But it’s the smaller items that can have just as big of an impact.

This week I wanted to highlight for you how we are thinking about Swartz Hall’s effect on the health of the people who will be working, learning, and visiting it.

Part of creating a modern teaching and learning space for our faculty, staff, students, and community includes a thoughtful approach to every aspect—not least of which entails the carpet, chairs, doors, ceiling tiles, paint, and more. These are things we don’t often think of on a daily basis, but they are the things our bodies come into contact with most and oftentimes contain chemicals that are harmful to human health and carry significant upstream impacts.

With that in mind we are working with the University’s Healthier Building Materials Academy (HBMA), a partnership between Harvard’s Office for Sustainability and public health, medical, and engineering faculty, to ensure our renewed space, and the materials in it, contribute to the well-being of our community members and the sustainability of the environment and distant communities as much as possible.

The HBMA, using the latest available science from Harvard’s researchers, works to reduce the use of certain chemical classes of concern in the University’s capital projects and building operations, while also partnering with other organizations to transform the marketplace toward healthier materials. Harvard is also taking our findings and sharing knowledge so that others can make informed decisions.

Since 2017, almost 40 pilot capital projects, representing over 3 million square feet, have been launched across the University. These pilot projects provided the Office for Sustainability with the opportunity to ground decisions in the latest science and collaborate with hundreds of manufacturers to promote ingredient transparency. Over 10,000 building products have been evaluated as part of this engagement.

I’m proud to know that of the almost 40 HBMA pilot projects to-date, Swartz Hall is the largest mixed-use, full-building renovation project involved in this effort. I’m also grateful for the work of our colleagues across Harvard, because I know that when the time comes to finalize Swartz Hall’s furniture, paint, carpet, and much more, we will be looking at items already scrutinized to be healthier for all of us and healthier and better for the environment, which sustains us.

As we learn more each day, month, and year about the potential hazards and impacts of chemicals in everyday products, this effort will save us in the long haul by helping us avoid building materials that may be deemed hazardous in the future, necessitating their removal and replacement.

The effort that goes into researching, selecting, and procuring healthier materials definitely requires more work for everyone from the architects to the contractors. It’s a difficult thing to quantify, but I’m confident that this careful consideration and extra effort will mean creating an environment that will help those who learn in, work in, and visit Swartz Hall feel better, more engaged, and enhance the teaching and learning experience at HDS.

I enjoy working to create environments like that and I thank my colleagues across Harvard for their help doing just that.

Site work. Window protection work is ongoing and crews will continue to dewater and excavate the courtyard in preparation for the building addition. Utility work around the Francis Avenue lawn will begin and lane and sidewalk closures may be implemented on Francis Avenue. Daily deliveries and dumpster swaps are ongoing. All activities are subject to change based on weather or other circumstances.

I also wanted to share here some pictures of the progress being made in the old stack wing. With interior demolition making headway, work will soon begin to transform this space into the new, inclusive multifaith chapel and modern teaching and learning environment. You’ll also see below a bobcat vehicle inside Swartz Hall that's being used for block wall demolition.

—Ralph

Old Stack Wing demolitionOld Stack Wing demolition
Bobcat in Swartz Hall