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Building Committee Halts Lab Extension

New Media Lab Building Awaits Donations

By Lauren E. LeBon

Funding shortages have caused a temporary halt to construction on the Media Laboratory’s four-year-old extension project.

In late July, the MIT Building Committee voted against launching the project’s construction phase until more funding could be raised. Last week, the expansion project managers asked the City of Cambridge for a 12-month extension for construction.

After a delay to solicit more donations, the new building is expected to be ready for occupancy in January 2006, said Gregory L. Tucker, the Media Lab’s facilities director.

Two-thirds of the required amount has been donated so far, said Alexandra L. Kahn, a Media Lab spokesperson. Construction of the new building will not continue until MIT has raised the remaining third, she said.

Okawa donation started extension

The extension project had been jump-started in 1998 by a $27 million donation from the late Isao Okawa, the former chairman of CSK Corp and Sega Enterprises Inc. At the time, the donation was one of the largest in MIT history, the MIT News Office said in a press release.

The new building will add 197,000 square feet adjacent to the Wiesner Building, which houses the Media Lab and the List Visual Arts Center. The extension is to include the Okawa Center for Future Children, at which researchers will “rethink the design of digital technologies to meet the needs of children,” the press release said.

Groundbreaking on the project had been scheduled to begin last June, but was cancelled after the laboratory failed to meet its fundraising goals in time.

Managers hopeful on fundraising

“The Media Lab’s fundraising record is strong,” said Martha Ondras MAr ’74, the project’s senior manager. “There is a strong interest in their programs.”

Unfortunately, however, “it is difficult to get very large gifts at a time when people are being careful about money,” she said.

In the meantime, “everyone is stuck in the same crowded conditions they’ve been in for another year,” Tucker said.

The expansion delays are unrelated to the Media Lab’s internal financial problems, which earlier this year led to budget cutbacks and the layoffs of 30 employees, Tucker said.

“It’s an independent issue,” Ondras said. “Fundraising for construction is separate from the day-to-day running of the Media Lab.”

The general consensus among the project leaders appears to be that the construction will begin again in six to twelve months. “It all depends on the fundraising,” Ondras said.