Monday, May 27, 2024

Martin Annis points Nov. 17. 2005, to Harvard University construction going on less than a dozen feet from his home. (Photo: Schuyler Pisha)

Martin Annis points Nov. 17. 2005, to Harvard University construction going on less than a dozen feet from his home. (Photo: Schuyler Pisha)

Bank Street residents next to a 144-unit Harvard dormitory construction project say excavation at the site is causing them great hardship.

Officials in charge of the $36.5 million construction at 5 Cowperthwaite and 69 Banks St. are proud of the job they are doing and have given assurances they will protect the neighbors and their property from any injury during the two-year project.

But since work began in August, several residents have complained about noise, vibrations, exhaust fumes from heavy construction equipment and other problems.

“There are tons of mitigation issues,” said Janet Macy, of 65 Bank St., who rents an apartment in the house owned by Martin Annis, directly next door to the site.

There is less than 10 feet from the house to the fence of the construction site, where contractors are digging a 45-foot-deep foundation trench, using “slurry” liquid — a type of soup chemically engineered to hold back groundwater — until it is replaced by concrete.

The corner is surrounded by an eight-foot fence and barrier, as well as other precautions to guard the neighbors. As the four large cranes probe trenches and manipulate a giant set of jaws that digs out the slurry excavation trench around the perimeter, students come and go to dorms and classes.

It’s as though the construction was not taking place. Everything is business as usual for Harvard — except that an entire sidewalk has been moved east and two houses on the construction site have been literally picked up and rolled out of the way.

But for Macy and Annis, things are not as peaceful as they were before Harvard broke ground.

“It’s terrible,” Annis said. “Since they have been digging there, our house has been bumping up and down from the vibrations. It’s horrendous.”

He said he is worried that vibrations from the intense digging operation next door will knock loose the stones, bricks and mortar in the foundation of his circa-1875 two-story house.

Annis, who owns Annistech Security on Church Street in Harvard Square, said he earned a Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1951 for astrophysics. But he indicated that it doesn’t take a physics professor to realize that his stone foundation lacks the strength necessary to withstand a swift kick from an old man in tennis shoes, let alone the tremors of this excavation.

Furthermore, Annis said, his homeowners’ insurance does not cover foundations.

“If my house falls apart, I won’t have any place to stay,” he said, looking down at the foundation. “And the bricks could fail. They are slipping. It looks kind of fragile. I wouldn’t kick it. I have asked them to mitigate any damage that occurs and they have not responded.”

As far as Harvard is concerned, however, Annis and the other handful of worried neighbors have nothing to worry about, because the university has taken extreme precautions to monitor and minimize the vibrations, noise and other impacts.

Before construction, Ed LeFlore, the mitigation manager on the project, took pictures of the neighbors’ houses and installed monitoring equipment to detect any noise, air pollution, water pollution or ground vibrations exceeding safe limits, as well as limits set by law.

“We did more than we normally do,” LeFlore said. But if it is determined through an investigation that damage was caused by Harvard’s construction project, “We will fix it.”

There is a hot line residents can call, and he said he meets with them every week, usually on Fridays, to discuss their concerns.

Why they are still upset, he said, is probably because the slurry excavation phase is the most intense part. Once the concrete is poured for the housing project and its parking garage, vibrations from construction will be greatly reduced.

“It is important to understand, the university is going above and beyond the call” of what is required by law in the way of procedures. He said the university is providing noise monitoring, vibration monitors, shuttle buses for construction workers to travel to the site, ambient alarms to monitor background noise, even additional pollution control devices on the cranes.

Construction workers at the site confirmed they hit some unexpected rock deposits that made digging more difficult than expected, but insisted that overall the work has been proceeding smoothly and without a hitch.

“We are rocking,” one of them said.

LeFlore conceded that living next to a construction site is not pleasant. But he said if the residents can hang on until January, things would get better. As for their concerns about damage, he said, “we did one project at the natural history museum, which had glass flowers and ancient Native American pottery. We did the same protocols, and nothing broke.”