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New Dormitory Construction to Begin this Winter

By Jeremy Smoler

Design for MIT’s new undergraduate dormitory, to be completed for 2001, continues to move ahead, as MIT finalizes plans for several related capital projects.

According the Executive Vice President John R. Curry, additional drawings must still be made and contractors must still be found. Curry said construction of the dormitory should begin this November or December.

The residence project is currently on schedule, but is “extremely fast-track” according to Curry. Curry said the administration is developing options to house freshmen in case the dormitory is not completed in time for the 2001 school year.

“Stephen Holl, the architect, describes this building as a sponge because it is porous both horizontally and vertically,” said Chancellor Lawrence S. Bacow ’72. “He has created some very exciting interior spaces through the use of small atria throughout the building that vertically connect adjacent floors, and also bring light and air into the interior of the building.”

The dorm will be located on Vassar Street, across the athletic fields from MacGregor House, according to Chancellor Lawrence S. Bacow. It will be a long, narrow building, sandwiched between the street and railroad freight lines. It will house about 350 in double and single rooms for about 320 underclassmen of all years, five apartments for visiting faculty, and two faculty housemaster suites.

Improvements planned for Vassar

MIT has “just begun to look at what Vassar Street might look like” in the future, said Curry. Architect Olin Laurie will work on improvements to the street, extending all the way to Main Street. Improvements will include widening sidewalks, adding bike lanes, planting trees, and removing the chain-link fence next to the athletic fields.

According to Curry, some of these changes will take place during the construction of the new dorm, as the street is dug up for work on utilities. Curry said “It kind of depends on how it goes,” but he would like to see a “major portion” of the work on Vassar Street done by the time of the opening of the new residence in 2001.

Curry said construction in the future will be the most “intensive” near the undergraduate residences. The condition of the campus during future construction is “something to worry about.” He said that detour signs will probably be put up to guide pedestrians, bicycles, and cars.

MIT plans to eventually build a row of dorms on Vassar Street, but Curry said this will probably not happen in the near future.

Bacow mentioned such construction may not happen for ten to twenty years.

Railroad changes planned

Farther in the future, changes are planned for the Grand Junction Railroad, which runs next to the planned site for the new dorm. The railroad is currently the only freight rail connection across the Charles River. O. Robert Simha, Director of Planning at MIT, said the future of the freight line is still uncertain. It may be relocated or moved underground. Simha said changes to the rail lines should not effect the planned changes to Vassar Street.

Whether the freight line moves underground may depend on the MBTA’s Urban Ring project, scheduled for construction in the next twenty years, said Simha. The MBTA plans to build a subway lines circling the city, connected to major transit lines. One transit line will run under or along the current railroad right of way.

As part of the Urban Ring project, two to three subway stops may open near MIT, said Simha.

Students respond to building plans

The new undergraduate dormitory will be across the athletic fields from the other West Campus dormitories. The new dorm would still be “definitely closer than East Campus” to visit, said Deanna J. Chou ’01, a student living in Next House.

When asked whether she would visit the new dorm, Meghan McLemore ’00, a student living in East Campus, said, “I don’t go to visit people in West Campus very often.” East Campus students mentioned they were happy with their proximity to Senior House.

Lael Odhner ’03, a student in Random Hall, said his dorm was “a fairly tight-knit community,” partly due to its isolation.

Emily W. Brosi ’02, a student living in MacGregor, said she would be reluctant to move to the new dorm. She said, “you live with the same people in an entry for four years... you wouldn’t want to move away from that.”

The new dorm is needed to house the additional freshmen pulled onto campus by the new residence policy for the 2001 school year.