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Baker Renovations May Begin Next Year

By Shang-Lin Chuang

A $22 million renovation to Baker House could begin as early as next summer pending approval by the administration, according to Susan A. Personette, senior architect and project manager for Physical Plant.

According to the current plan, the dormitory will undergo construction during the summers of 1998 and 1999, rendering it uninhabitable during those times.

The first and ground floor common space will undergo major renovation in the first year, and the dormitory rooms will be renovated the following year, said Tracy M. Sadowski '99, who lead a team of Baker residents and coordinated the flow of information between the students, the architects, and the administration.

A feasibility study was completed late last year by a group of students, architects, and the administration to prioritize the renovations and estimate their cost, Personette said. That group is currently getting more student feedback, preparing a more detailed design for the renovation, and updating the cost estimates.

The administration will review the renovation plans in October or November; if they are approved, work will begin next summer.

"What started to drive this project originally was that the major systems were worn out and needed to be replaced - heating, lighting, plumbing, power," Personette said.

The historical importance of the building, which is internationally famous for its architecture, was also considered in the renovation plans.

"We want to make the building respond to modern students, and then we really become conscious of the historic value of the building," Personette said.

Students involved in planning

Students have been heavily involved in the entire renovation process. The team of Baker residentshas met frequently with the architects and administration and has been a primary information source and had a major influence decisions, Personette said.

The planning decisions are made jointly by the administration, architects, and students, Sadowski said. Cost, necessity, and benefits are all weighed to match budgetary constraints. The students have been meeting regularly with the administration for the past three years.

"The project will be funded in three ways," said Director of Special Projects Stephen D. Immerman, who is in charge of the financial aspect of this project.

"The rents will be increased at a normal rate, the systems will be made more efficient without compromising it, and as the old debt is retired, the cash flow will contribute to [paying] the new debt,"Immerman said. "It is a combination of all of those things and how they work together."

Purchasing to begin in spring

A mock-up room will be created over the upcomingIndependent Activities Period, Sadowski said. "One of the most oddly shaped rooms will be completely restored so that we can see what works and what does not."

Starting next term, the Institute "will begin purchasing supplies for the summer restorations," she said.

During the first summer of the renovation, the dining room, kitchen, and common areas will be renovated. A new, handicapped-accessible entrance will be built and the elevator will be replaced, Personette said. The mechanical and electrical systems will also be renovated during this time.

The student rooms will be the focus of the second and final summer, Sadowski said.

The configuration of the rooms will stay the same, and no walls will be knocked down, Personette said. Instead, new lighting, floors, and sinks will be installed. The wood furniture in the rooms will also be restored.

"We will also be replacing windows, upgrading [MITnet] drops, and providing more social spaces," Personette said. "We will also be renovating the kitchen, which will be decreased in size since we don't serve as many meals in it as we used to."

The renovations are inevitable even if the administration doesn't approve the plans this fall, Personette said. "My sense is that it will be a choice of this summer or next summer or the summer after that," she said.

Renovations preserve architecture

The Seniors Dormitory, as Baker was originally called, was completed in 1949. The design by the Finnish architect Alvar Aalto is one of the earliest significant examples of post-war international modernism in the United States, Sadowski said.

"The architects, students, and administration are working together to modernize Baker House while preserving the history of the building," she said.

While the bulk of the renovations will focus on updating the basics of the building, the project will also focus on incorporating some of Aalto's original intentions which were cut from the project during the original construction due to budgetary restraints, Sadowski said.

The dormitory was dedicated in 1949 by Aalto, who was teaching at the Institute at the time. Baker is one of the two buildings Aalto built in North America and it is considered the better of the two, Personette said.

"It is considered almost something like a pilgrimage site and a masterpiece of the modern type of architecture; many architects visit Baker House to study its designs," Personette said.

A subset of the architecture team went to Finland to study Aalto's papers, Personette said. The team "came back with 500 pages of drawings of Baker that we did not know existed," she said. "We have used that to guide any design decisions and changes so they won't look like they are coming from a different place or era."