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McGovern Building Conflicts with Plans for Railway

By Shan Riku

Concerns about the rail track running through the planned construction site of the new laboratory building for MIT’s Department of Brain and Cognitive Science, along with the featureless exterior of the building and other issues caused the City of Cambridge Community Development Department to postpone approval of the new building until another public hearing. MIT stands to lose $50 million if the building is not erected.

Susumu Tonegawa, the Director of the Picower Center of Learning and Memory, expressed a departmental need for the building. “Our department is trying to be the best in the world [in this field of study] for coming decades,” he said. “In order to be the best, one thing we definitely need is the new facility that the neuroscientist and the brain scientist can work close together. Now, our laboratories are relatively scattered. We need to put all neuroscience and brain science researchers under one roof.”

The groundbreaking of the building is scheduled for 2003. It will be occupied by laboratories from Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences and house the McGovern Institute of Brain Research and the Picower Center for Learning and Memory. It is presently projected for completion in 2005.

Funding comes from benefactors

Some part of the budget for this building comes from donations made by Lore Harp and Patrick J. McGovern ’59, and the Barbara and Jeffry Picower Foundation. The McGoverns committed $350 million to MIT two years ago. It was the largest gift ever to a university for scientific research.

The Picower Foundation donated $50 million to establish the Picower Center for Learning and Memory this year. If this building are not approved, the use of those funds could be cancelled.

Railroad plans hinder building

The site for the proposed building is bordered by Main Street, Albany Street, and Vassar Street and located next to the Parsons Laboratory. Because of the lack of space at the site, the building will have no ground floor and will be elevated over the rail track so trains can pass through the building.

Though trains run rather infrequently on the track, the committee is concerned about the ability to accommodate people in the future with a hindered rail system. The building plan also conflicts with several Cambridge transportation plans already in progress.

“Cambridge Bicycle Committee is planning to build paths through Cambridge alongside the rail tracks,” said Lester Barker, a member of the City of Cambridge Planning Board. “There is a study about ... a ‘multi-use’ path for bikes and pedestrians. They [members of the Cambridge Bicycle Committee] need enough width to build this lane next to the rail track, but the space [under the new MIT building] is too narrow.”

Additionally, there is also a plan to install a frequently running light rail transit system on the old rail track, which also conflicts the building.

City finds facade too bland

Another concern of the development department is the facade of the new building. The committee is concerned about “the exterior, particularly on the ground interfaces on the public side,” Barker said. “The exterior of the building is just concrete without any variation. They [some attendees of the meeting] think more windows or skins of the building are needed for the side interfaces and sidewalks.”

The planning committee will have the next public hearing on Nov. 12. They will consider the changes the MIT will have made after the first meeting to decide whether to approve the construction.