Some members of the Newton City Council raised concerns about Boston College’s lack of a mask mandate as well as the potential effects of the University’s future construction plans during a Boston College Neighborhood Council meeting on Tuesday.
Councilors Lisle Baker of Ward 7 and Alicia Bowman of Ward 6 said that BC should reconsider its decision against a mask mandate. Baker and Bowman said that some of BC’s faculty members voiced their health concerns publicly. Baker, who is a professor at Suffolk Law School, said a mask mandate is in place for all of its faculty and students and urged BC to consider the same.
“It is candidly a bit of a disappointment to us that BC is not interpreting that mandate the same way that we are in my other life,” Baker said. “Given the nature of the breakthrough infections, I think that I would just respectfully urge the college to reconsider the issue of masking in the classroom.”
Tom Keady, vice president of BC government relations and community affairs, responded that BC’s decision against a mask mandate came from its high vaccination rate and close monitoring of COVID-19. BC has also successfully handled the recent Family Weekend, Keady said. Keady said he would bring the councilors’ comments to University President Rev. William P. Leahy, S.J.
Newton Mayor Ruthanne Fuller instituted a mask mandate for public places in Newton that went into effect on Sept. 2, and the mask mandate for public spaces in the City of Boston went into effect on Aug. 27. BC students are required to wear masks in indoor spaces that the public has access to, such as dining halls and the McMullen Museum of Art.
The BC community has a vaccination rate of 99.3 percent, BC’s Director of Government Relations Jeanne Levesque said. Levesque also said the University conducts rigorous monitoring of the COVID-19 situation on campus.
Levesque also reported on the campus construction. On the Newton side, BC is moving along with the construction of the Schiller Institute for Integrated Science and Society. BC expects to complete the building in late December 2021 and open it in January 2022, according to Levesque.
On the Boston side, BC is awaiting approval for a Conte Forum upgrade that includes upgrades for the BC basketball teams and the marching band near Gate D of the arena. Keady said that the University expects to begin these projects in March or April 2022.
Baker requested that BC ensure that the renovation projects do not block traffic in Newton. Levesque responded that the construction would be mostly internal and would have minimal effects on traffic in Newton.
The University is conducting an internal study for a location to construct a new student center, and the site may be located in Newton, according to Keady. Keady said he could not disclose the possible sites of interest at the moment.
Keady said the University is also considering upgrading certain buildings such as the dormitories of Pine Manor College, which the University acquired in 2020.
The council also discussed the Hammond Pond Parkway Improvement Project, handled by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation. The highway currently alternates between three to four lanes and will be reduced to two lanes to provide additional space for cyclists and pedestrians. The first phase of the project will improve the segment of the parkway starting from Beacon Street to Route 9.
While Councilors Bowman and Baker were in favor of the project, Keady expressed concerns that it would cause traffic congestion for BC visitors. Keady urged for a holistic study of the effects of the project on the parkway, which extends from Beacon Street to Horace James Circle, further down south.
“For the people who are coming to visit Boston College, whether to work or attend, this is a huge issue—not only for us, but also the residents that live in the Chestnut Hill neighborhood area that voice their opposition to this,” Keady said.
The meeting also addressed some complaints from neighbors about BC’s activities, such as the inconveniences caused by athletic events and noises from students socializing in their off-campus residences.
Featured Image by Keara Hanlon / Heights Senior Staff