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New Senior House Set for Occupancy

Anders Hove--The Tech
James I. Summers Jr. (left), the architect of the Senior House renovations and Stephen D. Immerman, director of special services, sat yesterday on a bench in front of Runkle, the most notorious of Senior House entries.

By Dan McGuire
Associate News Editor

Cambridge City officials yesterday granted MIT a temporary certificate of occupancy for Senior House, permitting house residents to move back into the renovated dorm.

MIT's insurance had granted Senior House residents the right to do an in-house rush even if the certificate had not been obtained.

The furniture moving and painting for the dormitory have not yet been completed, and residents, along with new freshmen, will not be moving in until August 29. Many Senior House residents are currently living in nearby East Campus.

The alarm system approval means that any contingency plans, including one that would have involved Senior House residents crowding into in East Campus residents' rooms, will not be implemented, said Director of Special Services Stephen D. Immerman.

While structural, electrical, and plumbing inspections had been successfully completed some time ago, problems with the dormitory's new computerized fire alarm system held up approval.

Contractors had been working to resolve the problem and get the system inspected before August 29.

Inspectors with the Cambridge Fire Department tested and approved the fire system yesterday.

"We're kind of out of the hard-hat stage," said James I. Summers, vice president of Ondras Associated Architects, MIT's architect for the project.

Residents approve of changes

Even though steps were taken to preserve house spirit, Immerman admits that "Senior House will be different; there will be an impact. What that difference will be, time will only tell," he said .

The character "is bound to change a bit," said Senior House resident Victor P. Morales '98. But if anything, the dormitory "will be a better house and a better place to live."

"We are not six separate houses as we once were," said Senior House Desk Captain Jagruti S. Patel '97. "Maybe it will unify us some more."

"Five or six years down the line, it won't matter what we think right now," Patel said. The dormitory has been changing for decades and will simply change more as new freshmen are admitted to the improved dorm, she said.

The most important thing is that the dorm keeps its sense of family. "It doesn't feel like an institution," Morales said. "It feels like a home."

The murals that decorated the walls of Senior House entries have also been considered. "There are areas for murals," Summers said. There will be a process for submitting designs, but "it won't be a free-for-all," he said.

Work gets through rocky period

Renovations went through a rocky period last spring as workers began structural and electrical work near finals period, disrupting a number of residents who, angered at the lack of communication on the part of administration officials and the architectural firm, organized a dormitory-wide meeting and demanded that the work stop.

Electrical work continued quietly during that week, and their were no more complaints, Immerman said. The work needed to be done to ensure that renovations could remain on schedule, he said.

The certificate of occupancy granted yesterday brings the $12-million renovation of the interior of the building nearer to a close.

The renovation left Senior House "totally gutted," Immerman said. The new building completely complies with Cambridge building codes and is now fully compliant with the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, he said.

The certification came just in time. "We pushed to get it done" early, Summers said. "But just because we were doing something quickly didn't mean that we could let down our standards," he said.

Nevertheless, every day was critical. "You don't have much leeway when you're working 16 to 17 hours a day, seven days a week," he said.

The three-month ordeal was complicated by the fact that tests found lead in the building's paint.

"Supposedly the building was lead free, but when you are dealing with an old building you have to be wary," said Michael Potter, the assistant project manager for Shawmut Design and Construction.

The management of Shawmut"pulled an all-nighter" and figured out how to turn a three weeks of decontamination work into one week, Immerman said.

"It proved to be very successful given the incredible intensity of that project meant double shifts and sometimes triple shifts," she said. "Shawmut needs to take a lot of the credit for managing the situation," she added