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Media Lab Modifications Reduce Cost of New Building

By Beckett W. Sterner


MIT has made significant progress towards attaining enough funds to begin construction of the Media Lab Extension Project by reducing the complexity of the building plans and, therefore, construction costs.

By simplifying the building plans, “we’ve been able to take millions off the cost of the building,” said William J. Mitchell, Dean of the School of Architecture and Planning.

“The building will look almost exactly the same” on the outside, he said, but will have “slightly less space” inside because of changes in the basement laboratory space and simplified services infrastructure.

Martha Ondras, senior project manager, said that “we don’t know right now” when construction will begin. The MIT Building Committee will make the final decision on whether enough funds have been raised to justify beginning construction at the appropriate time, she said.

The committee had voted in July 2001 to delay beginning construction of the extension until more funds were were raised.

In September, Media Lab Facilities Director Gregory L. Tucker said that they hoped the building would be ready by January 2006, but Ondras now believes that “we’re getting to the point where [making the deadline] would be tight.”

Building space drops by 12 percent

Tucker said that as part of the change, they “took out enough space” from the basement laboratories to be able to greatly simplify the foundation of the building and hence reduce costs.

The total space in the building will drop from 195,000 square feet to 172,000, Ondras said. She said that they mainly shrunk “circulation” space such as lobbies, but also some laboratories and support areas.

The alteration “saved a lot of money where end users wouldn’t have seen it anyway,” Tucker said, and the saving “makes a significant difference” in the fundraising gap that is still left.

However, Mitchell said that “with the economy in the state that it is, everything slows down” for funding and operations. Thus, even though the Media Lab had raised two-thirds of the necessary money as of last summer, the gap in funding has still not been closed despite the recent savings.

Mitchell declined to release the dollar amount that they are hoping to raise, because he believes it would affect the bidding process with construction companies.

Extension to increase research

In terms of research, “the Media Lab has still not grown to its full size,” Mitchell said. The extension project, he said, will “really give [them] the capacity to go after grants” and new projects, but until the new space is available the possibilities for research remain limited.

Meanwhile, Mitchell said that the Media Lab is renting space in Kendall Square, and that any delay in construction should not affect the hiring of new faculty.