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Focus on the Concrete

Logistical failures in construction projects have been the recent trend at MIT. The most glaring example is The Warehouse, the graduate dormitory officially known as 224 Albany Street, which was finally dedicated yesterday. Some residents arrived at the building to learn that they would not be able to move in to their rooms. Instead, they were housed at the University Park hotel a short distance away.

Students were eventually moved into their rooms, despite the fact that construction was still not complete. Although most work was finished before yesterday’s dedication, the schedule for certain aspects of the project is still a mystery to the residents. For example, the hot water supply for the dorm currently sits in a temporary tank. Housemaster Steven R. Lerman ’72 provided The Tech with only the vague timetable saying, “We are expecting this problem to be resolved be the end of Fall at the latest.”

MIT is fond of abstract visions of a new campus community and culture for 2002 and beyond, but administrators should worry less about the abstract and concentrate on the concrete.

This is not the first time that the Institute has overlooked logistics in the zeal to improve the community, and at the expense of the students currently living in these places. Renovations at Baker House ran into similar problems of delays. Two years ago, Baker house residents returning to campus for orientation were given temporary rooms in other dorms. The rush for Baker House operated out of a tent in Kresge Oval because the building was not suitable; entry into the dorm required a hard hat.

A chance for the administration to learn from these experiences faces MIT in the upcoming year. 2002 will commence the largest change to the school’s residential system since the construction of Senior House, the first example of on-campus housing. All freshmen will move into dorms; concurrently, MIT will be taking a large step towards offering Institute housing to 50% of graduate students. As such, planning and communication are imperative.

In particular, the administration must analyze the progress of construction for Simmons Hall. MIT must make a clear assessment of the time and resources needed for timely completion. Within weeks, MIT must decide whether or not to commit to completing Simmons Hall for Fall 2002. The administration must be open and honest about the hurdles to completion of the project well before freshmen arrive.

MIT should make all efforts to avoid having undergraduates supplant graduate students in campus housing, the current contingency plan if Simmons Hall is not completed on schedule. The living and learning environment at Sydney & Pacific is subpar for incoming freshmen. The distance from campus and isolation from other undergraduates does little to benefit the community in the manner that supposedly drives the Freshmen-on-Campus decision. Furthermore, a sales pitch is underway to convince this year’s juniors, sophomores, and freshmen to move into Simmons Hall. Students interested in the features of the new undergraduate dorm will be disappointed to find themselves in a dorm designed for graduate students (complete with a day-care center).

If the administration commits to completing Simmons Hall by the fall, they must be willing to take all reasonable steps to meet their goal. On the other hand, if MIT comes to the conclusion that completing the dorm on time would be to difficult or too expensive, then students must be included in the decision-making process to develop plan B. As the contingency plan may affect graduate students, they must be included in discussions as well. The Institute must learn from the mistakes that it made with The Warehouse and not repeat them with Simmons Hall. The only way this stands a chance is if the administration is realistic in its future planning.