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Administration Approves Senior House Renovations by Fall 1996

By Jeremy Hylton

The administration has made a definite commitment to renovate Senior House and intends to finish the renovations and have the dormitory ready for occupancy by the fall of 1996, said Arthur C. Smith, dean for undergraduate education and student affairs.

Major renovations will be made during the next two summers, and students would probably continue to live in the dormitory next year, according to Smith. "We don't want to close the dorm during the academic year," he said.

No decisions have been made about who will inhabit the dormitory when renovations are done, Smith said. The administration is considering several options, including converting Senior House to a graduate student dormitory.

A final decision about Senior House's future will be made by the senior officers of the Institute, including Smith, President Charles M. Vest, Provost Mark S. Wrighton, and Senior Vice President William R. Dickson '56, Smith said.

In the interim, Smith hopes to explain to students what the decision making process is and how they can be involved in it. "I'm willing to go pretty much anywhere, any time to talk to people about this," he said.

MIT is working with a contractor to plan major renovations that will be performed regardless of the building's eventual use. The heating and electrical systems must be overhauled or replaced, and asbestos in the basement must be removed, Smith said.

During summer renovations, students who normally live at Senior House will find housing in other dormitories or at independent living groups, Smith said.

Housing report due Nov. 30

The administration hopes to make a decision about who will inhabit the dormitory soon, and it has asked the Strategic Housing Planning Committee to deliver a report on the Institute's options by Nov. 30, Smith said.

"Whether they can meet that deadline or not, I'm not at all sure. The goal is to keep the process moving along as rapidly as we can," Smith said.

Smith thinks it will be useful to have student input for the housing committee and for the senior officers. "Any input people could make to that committee will probably be to the good," Smith said.

But the level of student interest and the kind of input will depend largely on what decision the administration is leaning towards, Smith said.

If Senior House remains undergraduate housing, then student input will be focused on plans for renovations. If the administration moves toward graduate residents, then student interest, both from current undergraduate residents and from graduate residents of Ashdown House, will be much greater, Smith said.

"If that's the direction we intend to go, then we hope to slow down the whole process," Smith said.

There is a tradeoff between taking time to gather student input and making adequate preparations for summer work, Smith said. Though student input is important, waiting too long will make it difficult to keep renovations on schedule.

"The opportunity to use this summer decreases the longer you wait," Smith said. "You are concerned not to postpone things too long."

"I'm certainly sensitive to the fact that we are approaching the black hole of the fall term," Smith said. Expecting students to develop a well-reasoned position during late December is unreasonable, Smith said, but the Independent Activities Period should provide enough time to gather student input.

A final timetable for the decision-making process must still be agreed upon by the Institute's senior officers. "The people who are going to make the decision would like to move more quickly," he said.

Contractors preparing estimates

Several years ago contractors submitted preliminary estimates of what renovations would need to be done at Senior House, Smith said. Since the decision to move forward with renovations was made, contractors have returned to give a more detailed analysis of the building's problems.

The cost of renovations has not been determined, but Smith suggested a first-order estimate of $6 to $8 million. It has not been decided how the renovations will be financed, but Smith said it was unlikely that the source of funding would be a major stumbling block.

"I feel - and I believe Chuck [Vest] feels - that we haven't put a lot of capital into refurbishing of the housing system in recent years and we should," Smith said.

The Office of Housing and Food Services also plans to make more immediate renovations at Senior House, according to Michael W. Halle G, Senior House house fellow. These renovations will include grounds work outside the building; within the last year, new furniture, carpeting, and washers and dryers were added, he said.