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Repairs to Close EC, Random

Fire Safety Upgrades Will Displace Residents During Summer

By Laura McGrath Moulton

Random Hall and East Campus will be closed for the summer while the first stage of a $32 million upgrade of fire alarm systems is completed.

Karen A. Nilsson, associate director for operations for housing, said that the Institute has made a commitment to upgrade life safety systems across campus. East Campus and Random, two of the oldest buildings in the housing system, were identified as the most pressing concerns.

The repairs are not the result of code violations, Nilsson said. Residences “meet and exceed codes but [the Institute] doesn’t feel that is sufficient.” The new state of the art systems at East Campus and Random will maintain MIT’s life safety at the “highest level of any college in the country.”

The price tag for the campus-wide upgrade project is $32 million. The East Campus system installation is projected to cost $400,000, Nilsson said. Random Hall’s upgrades will cost MIT $300,000.

Along with fire system upgrades, East Campus’ electrical system will be renovated. Each room will receive two new, grounded outlets, Nilsson said.

Summer housing will be limited

Nilsson said that her office had identified space in the housing system for the summer residents of both East Campus and Random as well as for attendees of the Research Science Institute, a summer program for high school students housed at East Campus.

Manager of Undergraduate Residential Services Phillip M. Bernard said his office does not have a firm plan for housing students over the summer.

“When we closed Baker, we had to limit how many students could stay on campus, and that will probably happen again,” Bernard said. “Summer housing is not guaranteed.”

However, Bernard said that East Campus and Random Hall residents would have as good a chance of getting summer housing as residents of the other dormitories.

The repairs should not interfere with orientation, said Bernard. “The time table for the repairs has it done in time for orientation.”

Mixed reactions at East Campus

Students expressed concern about the repair schedule.

“People aren’t terribly happy,” said Brandy L. Evans ’02, president of East Campus. She characterized the situation as a repeat of the “big scare” about housing last summer, when spaces were tight due to construction on Baker House.

Jen Frank, East Campus resident, DormCon president, and former East Campus president, welcomed the planned repairs, which she said students have been requesting for some time.

“If there are any dorms on campus that need [repairs], it’s these two,” Frank said. “If we can take a step back from our personal feelings about this, we can see this is a for the greater good for the building.”

Evans said that the administration has been “very vague” about plans so far.

“We don’t have all the information, but it doesn’t seem to me like the improvements really merit moving everyone out for the summer,” Evans said. She said the doubt has been echoed by other East Campus residents in a recent flurry of e-mails.

However, Frank said that lead paint and asbestos abatement necessitated the time and the removal of students.

Evans expressed frustration over the issue of the fire alarm system. “We’ve been through several sessions of that already ... I’ve heard that the new fire alarm systems at Baker have false alarms all the time, so I hope we’ll get something better than that,” said Evans. Recent work done on East Campus’ alarm systems was in preparation for this major upgrade, Nilsson said.

Both Frank and Evans said that East Campus needs new electrical outlets. “Right now we have outlets that accept the third prong but don’t actually ground the plug,” Evans said.

Although students will not be able to live in the dormitories over the summer, neither orientation nor graduating seniors will be affected.

“They said it’ll be done by August 11. We have to take their word for it. I don’t know if they’ll let us move in right away, or if we’ll have to wait a week,” Evans said.

Frank was pleased by concessions made for graduating seniors. “I think the fact that graduating seniors aren’t having to move out [early] is very reasonable.” She also noted that the administration was working to ensure space for students to store their belongings over the summer.

“They are very willing to make things easy for students,” said Frank.

Summer plans changed at Random

Matthew. S. Cain ’02, president of Random Hall, said that students were surprised at the news that repairs would take place this summer.

“We knew about the problems with our fire system ... In the fall we were told that repairs were about three years in the future. Last night our housemaster told us” that they would in fact occur this summer, said Cain.

“In the long term it’s a very good thing. The alarms are very bad -- an alarm will go off, and someone sleeping one door down won’t hear it,” said Cain.“In the short run, people are disappointed.”

“They’re going to try to put as many of us in Bexley as possible, and they’re going to try to keep us together as much as possible,” Cain said.

However, he said that many Random Hall residents, especially graduating seniors, are now reconsidering their plans. Usually, many residents spend the summer in the dormitory, a trend Cain predicts will slacken this summer.

Although the fire alarm system is the focus of repairs at Random Hall Cain said that the housemaster was attempting to get other scheduled repairs, including electrical system upgrades and replacement of carpets, done at the same time.

Frank Dabek contributed to the reporting of this article.