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East Side Residents Await Walker Gym Reopening

By Ifung Lu
Associate News Editor

East Campus President Parag Gupta '95 is waiting to hear if Campus Activities Complex Director Phillip J. Walsh will accept his proposal to re-open the Walker Memorial gymnasium, which was closed last fall.

The gym was closed because of concerns about the safety of the building and use of the gym by non-MIT students. But Gupta and other east campus residents were upset that they were not consulted before the decision to close the gym was made.

In response, Gupta and Tariq M. Shaukat '94 proposed re-opening the gym, installing installing card-key readers on entrances to Walker, and deferring identification and access duties to the East Campus desk workers.

Though Walsh has not responded yet, he said that maintaining Walker is an important priority. "This office is committed to returning the gym to its use."

Safety and security issues dominated the final decision to shut down the Walker gymnasium. Campus Police, the Safety Office, the Athletic Department, and the Campus advisory board were consulted according to Walsh.

According to Walsh, the Walker gymnasium is old and may be a safety hazard. Although the underlying structure is sound, the floor needs replacing, he said. The floor is not likely to be replaced. The cost of this "alone is estimated at around $60,000," said Walsh.

Securing the facility is also not a cheap or easy task because the doors to the gym must remain open to serve as an emergency exit in case of fire. According to a survey done last year by Campus Activities and Campus Police, a number of people from outside MIT were using the Walker gymnasium.

Walsh said that in one incident, someone broke through a wall to turn on the lights to the gymnasium.

In addition, getting supervision on the weekends to handle emergencies is difficult, said Walsh.

Weekend access to the gym was never part of the official recreational program, Walsh added. In the past, the gym was only open to groups who scheduled their time with Campus Activities. Eventually, more casual access to the gym was allowed to students.

Last year, students used the third-floor gymnasium for a pick-up games of basketball or volleyball on weekends, according to East Campus President Parag Gupta '95. The gymnasium was used on weekdays as a place where students take exams. Students cleared desks from the gym Friday nights and set up the desks on Sunday nights.

"A lot of students have been asking about it: East Campus, Senior House, and Eastgate -- there are a lot of people who would like to have an athletic facility on the east side," Gupta said.

Students ask for access

Gupta, Shaukat, East Campus Faculty Resident Kenneth A. Oye, and East Campus House Manager John P. Corcoran represented students in a preliminary meeting with Walsh and Dean of Undergraduate Education and Student Affairs Arthur C. Smith last December.

At the meeting, Corcoran, Gupta, Oye, and Shaukat objected to the lack of communication with east side residents in making the decision. "I think all parties involved should have been communicated with," said Corcoran.

Only parties who had officially scheduled usage were notified. However, postings were placed in the gymnasium, according to Walsh.

Shaukat and Gupta then drafted their proposal to reopen the gymnasium. The proposal also said that reopening the gym would "help alleviate some of the demand at the athletic facilities on the west side of campus."

Walsh has not yet responded to the proposal. "It's frustrating. To date, there has been no progress," Gupta said.

However, Smith is trying to arrange another meeting in the next few weeks. "We are trying to get the group of people together to talk about what can be done," Smith said.

This meeting would involve all parties -- Campus Activities, the Athletic Department, Physical Plant, the Safety Office, and the management at East Campus.