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MIT Plans For Many Renovation Projects

By Kelley Rivoire


Following the recent campus construction boom, MIT will shift its focus to renovating existing facilities, said Executive Vice President John R. Curry at the annual town gown presentation to the Cambridge Planning Board on Tuesday. “Instead of new buildings, we’re talking about renewal” in upcoming years, he said.

The annual town gown presentations allow the public an opportunity to hear updates on the development projects of private colleges.

Renewal and infrastructure projects scheduled for the coming year include Vassar Street West public improvements and an infill project in buildings 4, 6, and 8 for the Green Center for Physics. While no new major construction projects have been planned for the immediate future, long-term projects include the East Campus Project, a Music and Theater Arts Teaching Laboratory, and a new dormitory.

Renewal and renovations planned

Many of the older buildings on campus, such as the Bosworth buildings, the original buildings surrounding Lobby 10, “look tired” and are “in need of major rehabilitation throughout,” Curry said.

Currently underway is a study “contemplating ways to efficiently renovate the group” of buildings in the next ten to twenty years, one segment at a time, he said.

The planned renewal of Vassar Street West, according to the town gown report, aims to form a residential street with improvements to the landscape and streetscape, ease traffic, and update utilities. Construction is scheduled for 2005, pending coordination with other Cambridge construction projects. Vassar Street East improvements were recently completed.

Off-ramps and traffic lights at Memorial Drive and Massachusetts Avenue were recently installed as part of a public improvement project. Although the project cost to MIT came to $565,000, “life is far less dicey at that intersection than it used to be,” Curry said. The second phase of modifications along Memorial Drive, including landscape improvements, does not currently have a construction timetable, according to the report.

Also tapped for construction in 2005 is the Green Center for Physics, an infill project in which construction in the courtyard surrounded by buildings 2, 4, 6, and 8 and the demolition of building 6A would allow the Physics Department to consolidate its space, now located in 13 different buildings, according to the report. The project is currently in the design stage, Curry said.

Future projects await funding

The east side will be the “area of campus most subject to work in the next few years,” Curry said. The East Campus Project would add space to the Sloan School of Management and renovate the space associated with the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, according to the report. The project is in the conceptual design stages and requires additional funding before designs can be continued, Curry said.

Conceptual designs have also been completed for a Music and Theater Arts Teaching Laboratory on Massachusetts Avenue. The proposed building, about 36,000 square feet, would have an “open, street-friendly structure” with substantial exterior glass, he said. The project is currently seeking donors.

The Media Arts and Sciences Project, formerly known as the Media Lab Extension, “will be built as soon as the funding comes forward,” Curry said. The funding for the building will come solely from gifts, and the failure to obtain adequate contributions so far has led to a delay of several years.

With the brain and cognitive sciences project planned for opening in September, the Broad Institute scheduled to open in 2006, and biological companies such as Novartis located in close proximity, the area is “becoming a center of gravity” for research in the biological sciences, said Curry.

In light of this, the Institute has long-term plans to turn the parking lot near building 68 into a biological sciences building, although only conceptual sketches have been made, and the project needs substantial time and funding at this point, he said.

New dorm likely in future

The Institute is considering building a new dormitory, as continued demand exists among both graduate and undergraduate students despite the recent openings of the Warehouse Apartments, Simmons Hall, and Sidney-Pacific Graduate Residence. “We can anticipate that we will propose some kind of residence hall within the next couple of years,” Curry said.

The fact that many of the present dormitories are “in extreme need of renovation” could influence the function of a new dormitory, Curry said. One possibility would be to use a new dormitory as a temporary facility to house residents of other dormitories while their buildings undergo renovations, he said.

It has yet to be determined whether the new dormitory would serve undergraduate or graduate students. In recent years, however, more graduate students have moved into non-Institute affiliated housing as area housing prices have decreased, placing less pressure on MIT to build additional graduate residences, Curry said.

A new undergraduate dormitory would increase the percentage of undergraduate students on campus, which is currently around 75 percent.

In addition, MIT “might grow the undergraduate population slightly,” as the faculty size and degree programs could accommodate more students, Curry said. Presently, the graduate population is determined by departmental research funding, although different ways to manage the graduate population might be considered in the future, he said.

Harvard discusses Allston plans

Kathy Spiegelman, chief planner and director of the Allston Initiative for Harvard University, presented Harvard’s town gown report to the Planning Committee. Included in Harvard’s report was an update on the Allston section of the campus, where the proposed extension to Harvard’s engineering program would be located.

Harvard has a “strong desire to stay competitive in the sciences,” and to do this, will need to “develop a substantial amount of new science space,” Spiegelman said. Allston is the “only place where that can realistically happen.”

Harvard plans to develop the unencumbered land in Allston in the next ten to twenty years.

Also presenting at the meeting was Lesley University. Cambridge College submitted a report, but did not present.