New Dorm Decision Pushed to DecemberBy Kevin R. Lang
MIT administrators have decided to wait until the first week of December to decide whether Simmons Hall will open on time in 2002 or whether undergraduates will be temporarily housed in a graduate dormitory.
A decision was originally to be announced at a meeting last Wednesday organized by Dean for Student Life Larry G. Benedict, but Executive Vice President John R. Curry asked that the decision be postponed.
“Vice President Curry asked that we postpone that decision to the first week of December,” Benedict said. “The purpose of last Wednesday's meeting was to develop a contingency plan.”
Administrators are currently reviewing subcontracting projects such as ventilation, electrical work, and plumbing with the contractor, Daniel O’Connell’s Sons.
“Basically they’re on schedule right now,” Curry said. However, he said, MIT needs to ask, “are there key components of this where we might run into problems?
“It’s actually not very complicated,” Curry said, “but the more days that pass before we make the decision, the more confident we can be.”
Curry said that he was not aware of MIT having any sort of penalty clause for the contractor in case Simmons opens late. “We have an enormous commitment on the part of the contractor to deliver this building,” Curry said. He said that the cost to MIT would not change depending on the completion date.
70 Pacific Street, Tang proposed
If Simmons cannot be opened in time for the fall semester, it will open for Independent Activities Period 2003. The main contingency plan for Simmons Hall has always been to house undergraduates in the new graduate dormitory at 70 Pacific Street. However, another possibility is housing undergraduates in Tang Hall. In the 1998-1999 school year, 53 undergraduates lived in Tang due to overcrowding in the undergraduate dormitories. For 2002, though, undergraduates from Simmons would take up nearly all of the 404 beds in Tang.
Many graduate students oppose the plan to take beds for undergraduates, but in general they prefer using 70 Pacific Street, rather than disrupting an existing community, according to Benedict.
“The graduate students really supported the Sidney and Pacific option over the Tang option,” Benedict said. “They were actually fully informed.” However, Benedict admitted that “clearly, they’re not happy.”
Salil Soman G, secretary of the Tang Hall Residents Association and co-chair of the Graduate Student Council Housing and Community Affairs committee, said the Tang proposal was unexpected. “They caught us by surprise,” Soman said.
Graduate Student Council President Dilan A. Seneviratne said that while GSC representatives knew all along that 70 Pacific Street was an option, he was not certain when exactly it was originally proposed. MIT administrators have been discussing 70 Pacific Street as the original contingency plan proposed by then-Chancellor Lawrence S. Bacow ’72, but Seneviratne said he “would be very curious to see where he said it outright.”
Grads hope to preserve Tang
Seneviratne said that there has been a “dire need” to build more sense of graduate student community in recent years, and that Tang Hall in particular has made progress. He stressed that “maintaining that continuity is important” to building community.
Seneviratne said that while the GSC is willing to help MIT, he hopes they can “minimize disruptions” to graduate communities.
Soman said that Tang has made real progress on community initiatives and social life the last two or three years, despite its prohibitive architecture. Tang only has a few rooms per floor and little common space.
Soman’s main objection was the loss of beds for graduate students. “There would be no grad students here. They would fill it up with freshmen, and then whatever is left they would offer to M.Eng [students],” Soman said.
Associate Professor of History and Green Hall Housemaster Anne E. McCants, who will serve as Simmons housemaster next year, said that she could “see advantages and disadvantages to both of the major options.” She cited the proximity of Tang to the rest of West Campus as a major benefit, but she said that disrupting an existing community was clearly a negative.
However, McCants said that she would not want to speculate about when or where she would serve as housemaster if Simmons were late and a contingency dorm were used.
“Like everyone else, I just have to sit around and wait and see,” McCants said. “We’ll figure it out when the time comes.”
Simmons plan could cost grads
If undergraduates are housed in 70 Pacific Street, they would not be expected to pay the full graduate student rent. However, the bigger financial concern is that MIT would not be able to rent out the beds for the spring semester, since graduate student leases usually run from September to August.
Seneviratne said that the lost revenue would come from the graduate reserve, a sort of trust fund for large graduate student housing projects funded primarily by rents. The GSC has proposed that MIT subsidize the graduate reserve in the event that 70 Pacific Street is used for undergraduates, but Seneviratne said he had not received any commitment from MIT.
Delay of 2002 decision unlikely
Another option discussed at Wednesday’s meeting was the possibility of pushing back the decision to house all freshmen on campus to 2003. However, this is perhaps the least likely contingency plan, given the amount of planning that has already been completed for 2002.
“By definition it’s an option, but I do not believe that it’s a viable option,” Benedict said.
Roberts agreed, saying that “It’s extremely uncertain whether that would be possible or not.”
Interfraternity Council President Rory P. Pheiffer ’02 said that pushing back freshmen on campus to 2003 would not benefit fraternities, sororities, or independent living groups. “I tend to think that if we were to push it back a year, it would just hurt us,” Pheiffer said.
Whereas the push from 2001 to 2002 gave the IFC more time to prepare, Pheiffer said they are well prepared now and are ready to implement for next year. “We would just be killing the momentum that we’ve picked up preparing ourselves for 2002,” Pheiffer said.
Further planning will wait
Benedict said he did not believe than any significant contingency planning would be accomplished in the short week before Thanksgiving break. In addition, he said that work will really begin once a final decision is announced.
In the meantime, however, Roberts is working with students interested in living in Simmons to determine what would happen in case of a delayed opening. Roberts is hoping to establish what he calls the “Sponge-in-Exile”, a community of students who would live together for the fall term before moving into Simmons over IAP. Roberts hopes that this will help establish a sense of Simmons community even before the actual building is complete.
“We can start building a residential community so that freshmen have a support system of upperclassmen that they can count on,” Roberts said.
“The problem with creating this “Sponge-in-Exile is that a lot of students would be turned off by the prospect of living in a graduate dorm ... for a whole term,” Roberts said.
However, Roberts also said that serious planning would be on hold until the decision was announced in December. “We’re not really thinking too seriously about that until the decision is made,” Roberts said.
Rentals not likely possibility
MIT is not seriously considering the option of renting space near campus, as they did when the newly renovated graduate dormitory known as “The Warehouse”, Building NW30, opened late. 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 an entire semester would be nearly impossible.
University Park has 210 rooms, and the nearby Howard Johnson has 200. The Hyatt next door to Tang Hall has enough capacity, but rooms can cost up to $300 per night.
The GSC has also proposed that MIT look into renting new apartment towers being built near 70 Pacific Street.