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MIT Plans To Build Grad Dorm in 2002

By Naveen Sunkavally

and Jon Sheffi


After years of delays and setbacks, MIT has finally announced the construction of a new graduate dormitory.

The dorm, located on the corner of Sidney and Pacific streets in Central Square, is expected to be completed by August 2002 and will house 600-750 students.

Combined with efforts to renovate NW30 by August 2001, which will create 125 additional housing spaces, the new dorm will bring MIT’s graduate student housing capacity to about 2,300, or 40 percent of graduate student population.

Pragmatism of dorm’s design

Compared to the new Vassar St . undergraduate dormitory, the new grad dorm will be somewhat more conventional in both structure and planning.

“There isn’t enough money to do everything we need to do, but at the same time, there is a pressing need to do something for graduate students,” said Dean for Graduate Students Isaac M. Colbert.

Soulaymane Kachani G, president of the Graduate Student Council, said the objective in designing this new dorm was not to create a “masterpiece,” like the undergraduate dorm, but to quickly provide housing without compromising quality.

The chosen architectural firm is Steffian Bradley Associates, Inc., which has worked on other projects in Cambridge such as the Cambridge Park Place and Neville Manor projects.

The preliminary design of the dorm uses a simple modular layout for the rooms. The dorm will contain 400 units, rising six stories tall along Sidney Street and nine stories tall along Pacific Street.

This layout will enable many different configurations, said Project Manager Michael K. Owu.

“The modular floor plan permits great flexibility in the ultimate programming of the residence. The building is being designed to accommodate both single graduate students as well as married students,” said Chancellor Lawrence S. Bacow ’72 in an e-mail.

Grad dorm to house undergrads?

With a lawsuit indefinitely delaying progress on the new undergraduate dormitory, slated to be completed by September 2002, it seems likely that the new graduate dorm will house undergraduates on a short-term basis.

“There is that possibility in the very short-term. At least a portion of that building would temporarily house undergrads until the new undergrad dorm is completed,” Colbert said. “The bottom line, however, is that we will significantly increase grad housing in the long-term.”

In fact, Ryan J. Kershner G, vice president of the Graduate Student Council, said that housing undergraduates was at least part of the motive for the building’s modular design. Such a layout will permit rooms to be easily reconfigured into doubles, accommodating undergraduates.

“Virtually all of our graduate residences have at one time or another in their history housed undergraduates, usually on a temporary basis,” Bacow said.

Such a prospect does not sit well with graduate student advocates. Kachani said that “if the new dorm houses undergraduates, the GSC will interpret it as a broken promise.”

Neighbors worried about parking

At a community meeting on July 27 to discuss the new dorm with MIT representatives, Cambridgeport residents expressed concerns about parking, the need for retail outlets, and open space.

Neighbors were concerned about the introduction of additional graduate students into Cambridge’s already overcrowded traffic situation. Current plans provide for about 300 new parking spaces, a minimum of 63 of which will be reserved for graduate students. Residents worry that 300 spaces won’t be enough to compensate for the parking problem the dorm creates, and that students will forego those parking spaces for cheaper Cambridge street parking.

“The residents don’t understand that most grad students don’t have cars. About 30% are foreign and almost certainly don’t have cars,” said Robert A. Bernstein, chair of the GSC housing and community affairs committee.

Another concern raised by residents was the absence of retail space, which could help make the building more attractive to both the public and to students.

Colbert said that current plans include retail space on the ground floor along the Sidney side of the building for basic student amenities, such as coffee, pizza, and laundry.

Dorm planning is proceeding

Planning for the new dorm has now entered the schematic phase, expected to last six to eight weeks, Kachani said. By February 2001, the design phase will be complete and construction should begin, Owu said.

In the immediate future, there will be a hearing on August 22 at 7:40 p.m. before the Planning Board.

Kachani said the GSC will now focus its attention on making the new dorm, which is expected to be expensive to live in, more affordable to all students.