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Graduate Dorm Possible in 2001

By Laura McGrath Moulton

A site on Albany street will be home to as many as 125 graduate students in 2001 if plans to increase on-campus graduate student housing prove feasible, according to a study currently underway. The plan is an interim step meant to alleviate graduate housing woes until capital can be found for a new, larger graduate dormitory on the corner of Sidney and Pacific Streets.

“This is an example of trying to move on as many fronts as possible,” said O. Robert Simha, director of planning. “Because this is a smaller project, we are able to move on it sooner.”

Study to determine feasibility

The Albany Street plan is currently undergoing a feasibility study which will take about 60-90 days, said Simha, who said that he hoped it would be open in 2001.

“The study should be done by the end of the year, but the actual opening of the building would be open to question,” said Associate Dean and Director of Residential Live and Student Life Andrew M. Eisenmann ’70. “There are always a number of unexpected problems when dealing with an existing building.”

The site, located at 224 Albany Street, is an industrial building currently utilized for storage purposes by MIT. Simha compared the potential residence to Edgerton Hall, which is also a converted industrial building.

“It’s a traditional mill brick building which has a lot of interesting space possibilities,” Simha said.

Grad student reactions cautious

Luis A. Ortiz G, president of the Graduate Student Council, cautiously praised the plan.

The priority “is to add safe, affordable housing close to campus, and any movement along that direction is positive, as long as it doesn’t kick longterm projects [such as the new dorm on Sidney and Pacific Streets] out of the queue,” said Ortiz. “I hope that the 224 Albany Street plan is indicative of initiative to increase graduate housing,” he said.

Ortiz said that he had been assured that the new Albany Street plan would not imply minimizing the Sidney and Pacific Street dorm plans. However, “you have to take what you can get, because the administration hasn’t been moving” on significantly increasing graduate student housing, he said.

“MIT has had a stated goal of housing fifty percent of graduate students for decades,” Eisenmann said. “Whether fifty percent is the right number or not, providing more graduate housing is a very important goal,” he said, noting that the Boston-Cambridge area has “one of the worst rental markets in the country.”

Reaching the stated goal does not seem likely in the near future, however. Currently, about thirty-two percent of graduate students live in buildings owned by MIT, and about twenty-nine percent live in on-campus residences, according to Ortiz.

According to Eisenmann, the Office of Off-Campus Housing will be improved during the next year, to facilitate student off-campus housing searches.

“We hope to have an on-line housing service implemented by the end of the year. We need to ask, given the market, what services MIT can provide,” said Eisenmann.

Larger grad dorm still coming

The dormitory at Sidney and Pacific Streets, which would plan for housing approximately 600 graduate students, would significantly increase the percentage of graduate students for whom housing is available.

Although this new dormitory has gone through most stages of the planning process, MIT does not currently have the capital to finance the project.

“When the budget was released in May, the graduate residence was not on the capital plan. There was talk of trying to finance [the dormitory] through off-budget means, after being told for two years that it was on the capital plan,” said Ortiz. “Now we’re told that the next in line is the new Athletic Center. It just keeps stepping backward.”

The Residence System Steering Committee final report, released last week, recommended that “a new group be formed to consider how the residence system might be restructured to better meet the educational needs of our graduates.”

Ortiz expressed frustration with this recommendation. “Everybody knows what ought to be done,” he said, referring to two housing surveys over the past twenty years on the subject of graduate housing. “It’s a matter of resolve and of dedicating resources toward improving the situation,” he said.