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Revitalizing On-Campus Buildings

Pius Uzamere and Jacob Faber

MIT is revitalizing the east side of campus by adding emerging academic centers, most notably the Stata Center. This incredible building, along with the new brain and cognitive sciences project and proposed additions to the Media Lab and Sloan School, will shift the focus of campus activities towards the east. As more of the MIT community spends time here, our facilities and infrastructure must be ready to accommodate the increased student life demand.

Unfortunately, amidst MIT’s blitz of academic renovations and improvements on the east side of campus, there is a lack of commensurate investment in student life-related facilities upgrades in the vicinity. The east side has been receiving new academic buildings while new dorms, athletic facilities, and dining option upgrades have tended to land west of Massachusetts Avenue. In fact, the east side is losing a dining facility and the dormitories are overdue for renovation. East Campus and Senior House are home to hundreds of undergraduates. The needs of this community must be addressed.

Certainly, with the Stata Center promised to open in the spring of 2004, the east side will see many improvements in this regard. The building features athletics facilities, classrooms, dining services, library amenities, and many other programs that will directly impact student lives. However, the Stata Center alone will not be enough. The Walker Memorial building offers a fantastic opportunity, particularly now that the dining function will be taken offline.

The Walker Memorial building deserves the same imaginative design, technological upgrades, and financial investment as MIT ’s trendier new construction. As our campus evolves through the addition of new buildings and facilities, we must look to our older buildings for solutions to student life and learning concerns, as well as soaring construction costs. This is particularly relevant considering the current economic climate.

We would like to see an investment in student lounge space. The effect of the simple addition of several couches and good lighting to the Stratton Student Center lobby has been tremendous. This area is now so popular that, for most of the day, it is difficult to find seating. Emulating, improving upon, and implementing this model on the east side of campus is necessary. The Undergraduate Association is working through a committee to find and develop a small space with furniture, a microwave, and entertainment such as a stereo or television.

The Association of Student Activities has been advocating for more student office space for a long time now. The number of undergraduate and graduate student groups has exploded over the past few years, and continues to do so. Many of these groups need space to run their operations and store the tools and hardware of their various functions. There must be an investment in such space and Walker Memorial is conveniently located for such a purpose.

There are obviously many other possibilities for this building. For example, the Undergraduate Association’s senator representing off-campus students, Katherine Allen, is working on finding a kitchen space that could be used during the day by undergraduates living in apartments or involved in the Senior Segue program. Another possibility is having scheduled hours at Morss Hall during which some of our numerous theater, dance, and performing arts groups could utilize the space.

We realize that to achieve the potential of Walker Memorial, a substantial investment is required. The estimate that has been publicized is $50 million. While far from a trivial amount, this is considerably less than the millions of dollars earmarked for the additions to the Sloan School, School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, the Media Lab, and dormitories. As the leadership of the Undergraduate Association, we feel that this financial commitment is necessary for the future development of the MIT campus.

Pius Uzamere II and Jacob Faber are the Undergraduate Association president and vice president.