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MIT Investigates Backup Plans for Simmons Hall, Grad Dorm

By Kevin R. Lang

NEWS EDITOR

When construction delays hit The Warehouse -- the dormitory officially known as 224 Albany Street -- students learned that MIT’s contingency plan involved a short hotel stay. Although Warehouse residents have since moved in, construction has yet to be finished.

Attention is now turning to the plans MIT has for the construction schedules of other soon-to-be-completed dormitories. If Simmons Hall is delayed significantly beyond the August 2002 target date, said Dean for Student Life Larry G. Benedict, undergraduates will be housed in the new grad dorm at 70 Pacific Street.

Approximately 25 students and the housemasters were able to stay in the University Park Hotel for six days, but finding space for 350 residents for days or even weeks might prove impossible. University Park has 210 rooms, and the nearby Howard Johnson has 200. To house the full capacity of Simmons Hall in one location, MIT would need to dip into its own already-limited supply of on-campus housing.

Benedict said that last year, then-Chancellor Lawrence S. Bacow ’72 established a long-term contingency plan involving the new graduate dorm at 70 Pacific Street, which is expected to be completed well before Simmons Hall. If Simmons is not ready in time, undergraduates will be housed in 70 Pacific Street for at least the fall semester, after which it would exclusively house graduates.

However, Benedict admitted that the administration will have to make a decision on this by the end of this first semester. “We can't recruit faculty if they're not going to have a place to live,” he said.

Short-term options still needed

Dorm planners have not yet come up with ways to handle delays that might arise before Simmons is complete, but after they have set the date for residents to move in.

“We’re aware of the potential problem, and we have our fingers crossed,” Benedict said. “We have to be very confident in what we’re doing by the end of the semester.”

“I don’t think anybody knows the answer to that question,” said Associate Professor of History and future Simmons housemaster Anne E. McCants. “Somewhere between here and June, we need to come up with an answer.”

Simmons construction is currently on schedule to finish one or two weeks before residents would begin moving in. While the Warehouse was a relatively simple project, the unique architecture of Simmons continually presents contractors with construction challenges.

McCants said she was hopeful that construction would be finished on schedule, but given the complexity of the project, “there is high likelihood of chaos” around the time students will begin moving in. However, McCants said that a few weeks of inconvenience would be insignificant relative to the decades-long life of the dormitory.

Residents demand honest timing

Warehouse residents were concerned about the lack of timely communication from MIT. Bassam H. Chaptini G said the contractors were very helpful during the transition, but he did not receive word about the delay until the day before he was supposed to move in. Despite MIT’s efforts, students with outdated e-mail addresses or who were in transit from other schools or overseas did not learn of the delay until arriving on campus.

McCants said that MIT needs to be more honest about completion dates in the future. “People need to know what the plan will be before they show up at the door,” McCants said. “I think it’s wise for the Institute and students in particular to be thinking about ‘well, what do we do when things aren’t ready as quickly as we’d like them to be?’”

Benedict attributed some of the short notice to communication problems with MIT’s contractors. “We kept being assured by our contractors that things were going to be okay,” Benedict said. “We’re going to try to keep in much closer contact with our contractors and our project managers [for Simmons Hall].”

Simmons Hall Founders Group member Jeffrey C. Roberts ’02 acknowledged the tight construction schedule and the need for progress from MIT administrators. “I would hope that we would be able to have a little bit more foresight in fall of 2002,” Roberts said. He was hopeful that contingency plans would be finalized by spring 2002.

The Founders Group recently organized an information session for students interested in moving to Simmons. The Group is looking to expand its focus to issues such as dining, furnishings, and in-house policy, and has not specifically considered contingency plans at this time.

Group member Vikash Gilja ’03 said that a few students at the information session asked about possible construction delays, but overall concern seemed low. “I’ve been asking around a lot about contingency plans, but I haven’t gotten a full answer yet,” Gilja said. “[MIT will] have to deal with it in a more informative manner.”

Warehouse under construction

The Warehouse is now fully occupied, but work continues on several staircases, lounges, first floor common areas, and water and air conditioning in some areas. Housemaster Lori Lerman said she was “very pleased with what we have so far,” and that “most of what needs to be done now is finishing work.”

While work continues on concrete and steel structural elements at Simmons, other campus projects are progressing, albeit with less consequential target completion dates. Teri F. Weidner, MIT Department of Facilities, Capital Projects Communications, Manager, said that all projects are currently on schedule to meet final completion dates.

Utility lines are being connected at 70 Pacific Street while steel work continues. At the Stata Center site, installation of formwork, reinforcing steel, plumbing and electrical work is ongoing. Concrete floor slabs are currently being cast at the Zesiger Sports and Fitness Center, further restricting access to the Johnson Athletic Center and Kresge Auditorium.

Information on campus construction projects and access to affected buildings and streets can be found at http://web.mit.edu/evolving.