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Random Hall Looks to Address Long-Ignored Problems

Helen Lin--The Tech
Repairs to Random Hall have largely undone the damage caused by blocked heating and sewage systems. Two weeks ago, a blocked chimney flooded the building with smoke, forcing a dormitory-wide evacuation.

By Ramy A. Arnaout
Executive Editor

Two weeks after a blocked chimney forced a dormitory-wide evacuation, emergency repairs on Random Hall's sewage and heating systems are almost complete.

Repairs to the sewage lines were needed after two backups drove refuse into the dormitory's trunk room and into the room of Jason M. Strautman '97, who lives next door to a bathroom, on Oct. 27 and 28.

The flooding "took a shockingly long time to clean up," said Random Housemaster Nina J. Davis-Millis. Refuse water and toilet paper sat in Strautman's room until after the Sunday evacuation. "I don't want to say it was a biohazard," but "by Sunday night it was pretty moldy in there," she said.

The plumbing and heating troubles resulted primarily from bad communication, said Associate Dean of Residence and Campus Activities Margaret A. Jablonski. While administrators have long known that the century-old building required special upkeep, "I don't think we were aware things were as problematic for students as they were," she said.

"What MIT's planning to do now is really the issue," Davis-Millis said. While she credited Physical Plant for having done "a tremendous amount of work ... on some of the long-standing maintenance issues" in response to the crises, she said that Random must now turn its attention to preventive planning.

Random residents and Housemaster Christopher Millis will meet today with RCAAssociate Dean Andrew M. Eisenmann '75 and other housing administrators. The purpose of the meeting is not only to review what has been done but to develop "a vision of ... the appropriate level of maintenance for Random," Davis-Millis said.

Addressing future concerns

The Institute has made clear that Random Hall does not fit into the Institute's long-term housing plans. Jablonski predicted the building will stop being used as a dormitory sometime in the next 10 years.

That plan should not interfere with the day-to-day upkeep of the building, Davis-Millis said. "It seems to me that if 93 MIT residents live in that building, they should expect a certain level of maintenance," Davis-Millis said.

"The metaphor I use is that of a car," she said. If a car gets scratched, you still drive it, but "if the transmission goes, you're going to buy a new transmission," she said.

"If MITcommits itself to housing students in an old building, and if the repairs turn out costly, that's unfortunate, but they have to do them anyway," Davis-Millis said.

"We need to establish standards and procedures" for maintenance work, Davis-Millis said. "So whether it's an emergency or just maintenance, what we expect and what [housing officials] expect are more in line. I think that's reasonable."

Police investigation continues

Campus Police are continuing to investigate the chimney blockage incident, which they suspect may have been caused by a disgruntled Random Hall resident.

Police "did speak to a number of people at Random, and there was one student who had a number of discussions with police," Davis-Millis said. "However, they assured me they were nowhere near having a suspect. No one was charged with any kind of vandalism."

Random intends to see the police investigation through, if only to make sure similar incidents do not happen again, Davis-Millis said. "It's as much of a preventive measure as it is a punitive measure," she said.

Chief of Campus Police Anne P. Glavin could not be reached for comment.