Renewing Andover: Sessions Scheduled for Community Input

August 20, 2018
Ralph DeFlorio
Ralph DeFlorio, director of operations, in front of Andover Hall. Photo: Michael Naughton, HDS

Earlier this year it was announced that, thanks to a number of significant gifts, including a lead gift from artist and philanthropist Susan Shallcross Swartz and her husband, investor James R. Swartz, AB '64, HDS will be able to move forward with a renewal of its main campus building, Andover Hall.

With design efforts underway, there have been nine community consultation sessions scheduled for the fall semester. These sessions are an opportunity for everyone in the HDS community to learn about the renewal project and to provide their thoughts. The first meeting, scheduled for 10 am on September 5, in the Sperry Room, will focus on multifaith space. Another meeting will be held on September 6, at 11:30 am, in the Sperry Room, during which the architects will provide a briefing on what work took place over the summer. The full schedule of meetings, and what topics will be discussed, can be found on the HDS community calendar.

In anticipation of those sessions, HDS communications sat down with Ralph DeFlorio, director of operations, to get more details on the project, what work took place over the summer, and what members of the HDS community can look forward to in a renewed Andover Hall.

HDS: Why is this renewal needed?

Ralph DeFlorio: As you know, Andover Hall was constructed in 1911 and its historical design was focused on the needs of the School at that time. Since then, the School’s mission has evolved. HDS has become a pluralistic school with a student body representing more than three dozen religious traditions. One of the questions we’re asking ourselves with this project is what can we do to make this a much more inclusive building that’s open, transparent, and spacious in the right ways.

This renewal will allow us to fulfill our need for enhanced learning spaces. It enables us to improve the student experience through modernized classrooms with flexible spaces that will facilitate new ways of teaching and learning.

Andover Hall was built for the kind of Divinity School we were in 1911. Now, our mission includes bringing our expertise more broadly into the world and inviting the world into convened conversation about the role of religion globally.

One thing that we lack as a School is the ability to deliver a reasonably good-size conference and the right kind of space for that. We're hoping, as part of the project, we will establish a space that will be able to house about 200 people. We talk about bringing the world to HDS, so this is going to be able to allow us to do that, to be more inviting for large groups, and to offer a lot more programs—interesting programs for the community.

At more of a nuts and bolts level, a lot of the systems have been around for a very long time. We’ve been chipping away at this list, but we have well over 20 capital projects that would need to be done, which would obviously be very disruptive. There are things like replacing plumbing and electrical wiring, so there's a significant amount of work that may not be obvious just by looking at the building.

Another important reason for doing it is from an accessibility point of view. It's very difficult to navigate the building in a wheelchair, for example, so we need to create entrances and pathways that are more supportive for that, because everybody should have the right to easily navigate the entire campus.

HDS: What aspects of the completed building can HDS community members look forward to?

Ralph DeFlorio: One of the goals for the project is to have a better connection to the broader Harvard community and to create more of a sense of what we call the front door of the campus. The way I look at Andover Hall, and others do from talking to them, is it's the hub of the Divinity School, geographically and otherwise, and so we're really hoping to enhance that.

It will be a vibrant base of activity. Student services will be located in Andover Hall. Also, a goal of the project is to establish the café over where the cloister link between the main building and the library is right now. That will be a whole new structure, and one of the advantages to that, and this is from feedback that we've received, is having the café in close proximity to the library makes a lot of sense.

Another goal is to try to create some spaces that are less formal, and so, you can have serendipitous meetings, you can be having a conversation walking along and then have a place to sit, maybe, and continue that discussion.

Another thing that people will notice is the comfort level of the building will be greatly improved. We have a wonderful collection of window air conditioning units that hopefully we will not be using anymore. Having centralized heating and cooling will give us better ability to control the temperature within the building and within the classrooms.

An aspect that I’m really excited about, and that the University has been giving a lot of focus to, is something that we call healthy materials. We’re looking at certain aspects of a building, from carpeting, to paint, and so on, and are looking at work by Harvard researchers to ensure they are truly healthy materials. For instance, chemicals used in the making of carpet or furniture can give off gases, so we’re using tools to research these products and make sure they’re good, healthy products.

HDS: How will this fit into HDS's green and sustainability efforts?

Ralph DeFlorio: We’re going to design the building to be a LEED Gold building. This would be the second building at HDS to be LEED Gold. Rockefeller Hall was the first. Earlier renovations to rooms 102 and 103 in Andover Hall, as well as the Sperry Room, have already earned those rooms LEED Gold certification.

Some of the things we look at are water conservation, air conditioning and heating—we have a split system right now that’s very inefficient—and the building is not particularly airtight. There are a lot of single-pane windows. We’re working to improve the feel of the building and also make it much more efficient.

The great thing about this topic in relation to the School is how Dean Hempton has talked about a goal of the School being our stewardship of the environment, and to me, this is example of something very tangible that reflects that value. So, we're really glad that everybody's in support of this goal for the project.

HDS: Why is having the community involved in this process important for the renewal effort? What would you say to people about participating in the sessions during the fall semester?

Ralph DeFlorio: At a real basic level, the building belongs to the community and it touches everybody at HDS whether you work in the building or not. Everybody passes through here, and this is the center of the campus in a lot of ways.

Current students, staff, and faculty members, all of the things that will happen in this project will have a direct impact on you, and I just think you owe it to yourself to make your voice heard. This is a once in a generation opportunity to transform—and I'm not using that word as a cliché, I think it really does apply to this project—transform HDS and our physical campus. I'm really mindful that the work that we're doing now, long after we're all gone, is going to have an impact on people.

These meetings will include our architects, and so there'll be a lot of opportunity for the broader community to participate in the building design process as we move forward. We're going to be listening quite a bit.

HDS: Where are we now in the process? What took place over the summer? What's the timeline moving forward?

Ralph DeFlorio: A big piece of what we’ve been doing has been putting the team in place. I'm really glad to say that we have Ann Beha Architects on the project. They have a familiarity with HDS. I should point out that they originally came on board in 2011 and did a feasibility study for us with Andover Hall. They were the architects involved with the renovation of the Sperry Room, and rooms 102 and 103 a few years back. They did an energy study for us a couple of years ago. One of the original reasons we were attracted to them is they have experience with historical design and, in particular, adapting historical buildings to modern use.

Schematic design is also what we've been working through. It puts together the concept, and a lot of the work that we've been doing with the building committee, for example, is looking at different schematics. After we finish that phase, we do something called design development, and this is where the drawings have a little bit more certainty to them. That will take us up until about the end of December. Then we move into a phase called construction documents. It's a very technical period of time that leads us up to construction.

We’re hoping to start construction after Commencement next year, so next June. As it sits right now, subject to change, we're anticipating an 18-month construction period. That's the goal right now.

I think we've really set the stage now so that, going into the fall semester, we've got this platform built where we can really get some meaningful feedback.

—by Michael Naughton