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COLUMN

A Harbinger of Impending Doom

Christen M. Gray

Simmons Hall may open an era of further overcrowding and construction delays. The delayed finish of NW30, the new graduate student dorm, may have shown us just a few of the potential problems.

The new undergraduate dorm was originally designed and planned to relieve MIT’s overcrowding. As a result of the 2002 decision inspired by the death of Scott S. Krueger ’01, instead of having to house approximately 700 incoming freshmen, the Institute must now house over a thousand. Over the last 12 years the FSILGs have averaged 365 residential pledges. Simmons Hall will be able to provide beds for 320 of these comfortably. So where are the other 45 places going to come from? Well, there aren’t exactly 45 extra places available. That’s right, the overcrowding problem that supposedly drove Krueger to join a fraternity hasn’t been relieved quite yet. MIT will start 2002 by overcrowding its brand new dorm, as well as further stretching the capacity of the older dorms. So much for relief.

Across the campus it seems as if everything built to be a double is now a triple; every room has one more occupant than originally intended. As hard as the adjustment to college life can be, overcrowded conditions can make hard times all the more difficult. One must get along with one’s roommate at very close quarters with little personal space.

Beyond the straightforward numbers problems are some time scale problems that MIT may have to face. NW30, also known as “The Warehouse,” was supposed to be finished by August 1. However, due to construction delays common to this sort of project, the dorm could not support residents until Tuesday, August 21st. This somehow came as a surprise to the Institute. Indeed the only backup plan that they had in place was to house the graduate students in the University Park Hotel from August 15-22 at $140 a night. To make up for the students not having kitchens available at The Warehouse, the Institute issued meal cards with $20 per day for food expenses. Because the graduate students are allowed to move into their dorm rooms at any time between August 15 and the start of classes, the Institute could not actually be sure how many graduate students they would need to house each night. Some students were able to inform MIT that they definitely would not be moving in until September. So MIT only had to reserve enough rooms for approximately half of the graduate students living in The Warehouse.

So lets do some math. MIT paid for about sixty rooms a night at $140 each plus $20 for food daily times one week. That comes to a $1120 mistake per student, $67,000 in total. And only 25 of the hotel rooms were even used! Is this a logical and effective use of Institute funds?

On a larger scale, the 320 students of Simmons Hall next year can’t just be put up in the University Park Hotel. If that is MIT’s current plan, they’d better get cracking on Plan B. In fact the current plan for Simmons Hall does not even allow for an overlap of construction with the arrival of freshmen. The administration feels it can simply double-shift the workers and have work continue through the weekends. This will raise the costs quite a bit, and would put the Institute in quite the tight spot if it fails.

Originally, all freshmen were to be housed on campus this year, but the construction of Simmons Hall was delayed by a year due to permit problems. Good news for this year’s freshmen, who now have the liberty to engage in Rush and the option to live in an FSILG as a freshman. However, it may be bad news for the Institute if the building suffers more delays.

If Simmons Hall isn’t finished by next year, will the administration have the sense to delay the 2002 Decision to become the 2003 Decision?

The change would be very difficult if delayed. The fact is that MIT would be violating truth-in-advertising by telling new freshmen and their parents up to that point that all freshmen would have housing on campus. This would also renege on some of the points in MIT’s settlement with the Krueger family. No one would have budgeted for Rush activities either, making a spontaneous change implausible at best. All dorms would have to become ultra-overcrowded (imagine your triple as a quintet) until construction was completed.

The Simmons Hall construction was moved up a great deal with the Krueger death and settlement. The question is, was it moved up too hastily? Can the Institute reasonably plan around this dorm being completed by next fall? A wiser course of action would be to have a buffer year. Plan to house students in the new dorm next year while maintaining Rush and letting freshmen live in the FSILGs.

It should be interesting to see over the next year what decisions and backup plans MIT puts into effect.