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Reading Room Renovations Delayed for Lack of Funds

By Christine Casas

An Undergraduate Association proposal to renovate the reading room on the fifth floor of the Student Center failed to receive funding from the Committee for the Review of Space Planning last spring, but it remains high priority on the committee’s project list.

Claude R. Canizares, associate provost and CRSP Chair, said that the proposal is “being carried [over] as a high priority project that we intend to do at the earliest time the budget will allow.”

The proposal calls for the addition of group study space and for the modernization of the reading room. CRSP must approve all space change and renovation projects for the Institute.

Dean for Student Life Larry G. Benedict, who submitted the proposal last year, said it remains his “top priority” this year.

Benedict “emphasized it was his top priority last year, [so he] seems to be keeping his word, which is great,” said Parul Deora ’04, last year’s Undergraduate Association vice president. Deora worked with other UA leaders to submit the proposal to Benedict and the Campus Activities Complex.

Phase I includes group study areas

The cost of the renovation was initially estimated at over a million dollars and required the proposal be split into two phases, Benedict said. It was phase one that was submitted to CRSP last spring and that remains on CRSP’s list.

The first phase focuses on the addition of group study space, since there are few such spaces on campus and since there is high demand for them among students, said Phillip J. Walsh, director of Campus Activities Complex. Walsh worked with the UA on the proposal.

Deora said that the desired study group space would consist of sound-proof rooms complete with whiteboards, and that the first phase also included fire safety improvements.

The second phase will focus on general improvements to the room: the addition of network drops and new furniture, carpeting, lighting, and climate control systems.

Benedict said that phase two would be submitted to the CRSP in the year immediately following the year of phase one approval.

Canizares said the renovation is the second-largest project currently on the list and that the CRSP plans to put half a million dollars towards it.

Renovations are ‘high priority’

Last spring, the proposal was “put on a list to go forward provisionally” but then became one of a dozen projects that had to be cut because of an unexpected 25 percent decrease in CRSP’s budget, Canizares said.

The CRSP will be soliciting projects from Benedict and other Institute deans in a few weeks. The proposal “clearly was high priority when first submitted and is still considered high priority, and he [Benedict] just needs to affirm it again,” Canizares said.

Canizares explained that although renovation projects are highly desirable, they are often “postponable,” as was the case last spring. He said that the CRSP would likely face financial limitations this year, but that the proposal still has an “excellent chance” of receiving funding. “[I] would very much like to do [the renovation]. ... The rest of the committee agrees and hopes that that will happen.”

Canizares said that renovation projects associated with students and academic cycles are usually completed over the summer so as not to disrupt study.

Students say renovations needed

Julia D. Kurnik ’06, who uses the reading room “all the time,” said she would find beneficial the addition of group study space. She said she is often distracted by group workers in the reading room and that the area outside the fifth floor Athena cluster does not have enough seating for all the people who want to engage in group work there.

Danielle D. Chu ’06, who usually uses the reading room to study for exams, said that the lighting “definitely need[s] to improve” because she has the tendency to fall asleep as soon as she walks in.

Munhee Sohn ’04 agrees that lighting is a problem. She said the darkness of the room makes it depressing. She also said that if the room were nicer, more people would probably use it.

UA survey prompted proposal

The UA approved the proposal to renovate the reading room after the results of an online survey they conducted last November indicated that student demand for the renovation was significant.

At the time of the approval, the UA also voted against an alternative proposal by the Association of Student Activities that part of the reading room be converted into space for the MIT Science Fiction Society library, currently housed on the fourth floor of the Student Center. The current MITSFS space would then have been converted to additional student group offices.