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Compromise Reached on NW35; New Grad Dorm to Go Forward

By Rosa Cao

After a series of last-minute compromises, the majority of students on the NW35 planning committees reached agreement by the March 31 deadline with administrators on basic physical space allocations as well as potential rent structures for the new graduate dormitory. The building is now expected to go forward on schedule.

A March 31 GSC recommendation summarized the agreements and endorsed the project.

As part of the agreement on allocation of common space, the number of beds in the building would be reduced from 520 to 502 to make up for the increase in common space to 13,200 feet. The Thirsty Ear, a student-run pub currently located in the basement of Ashdown House, will relocate to the new building as well.

Administrators at the March 29 space planning subcommittee meeting agreed to include 150 beds (about 27 percent of the total number of beds) in three-bedroom units without a kitchen or living room, a retreat from their earlier position that such amenities are a non-negotiable requirement for quality housing capable of addressing future demand.

GSC President Sylvain Bruni wrote in an e-mail to GSC representatives that Associate Dean and Director of Housing Karen Nilsson suggested at the space subcommittee meeting that such rooms could in fact be filled, based on the current demand for Ashdown singles.

Although Housing has not made any concrete commitments on rents, Bruni reported that Benedict reaffirmed at a private meeting March 24 that the Institute will provide a subsidy, at least in the short term, to maintain rents at levels between those of Edgerton and Sidney-Pacific Graduate Residences. However, President Susan Hockfield and Executive Vice President Sherwin Greenblatt reiterated that there will be no long-term subsidy for graduate housing.

Bruni pledged that the GSC would negotiate for rents in the rooms without amenities to be substantially less than (about two-thirds of) those in the efficiencies, two-, and three-bedroom apartments with living rooms and kitchens, whose rents would be more comparable to those of similarly configured units in Sidney-Pacific.

At a stakeholders group meeting on March 30, Greenblatt and Chancellor Phillip L. Clay said that the new target break-even date (when rents will fully cover yearly mortgage payments and operating costs) for the new building will be pushed forward to 2020. Until then there will be an annual deficit in operating costs (estimated to be about $1.5 million the first year and $12 million over 12 years), which Greenblatt and Clay have said will not be funded from an increase in system rents, nor an increase to the student life fee. It is still unclear what the source of the funding will be.

Although student members of the stakeholders committee and space subcommittee were not able to reach a unanimous consensus, the majority supported going forward with the revised project. Ashdown GSC representative Harish Mukundan, Ashdown House Executive Committee chair Suddhasattwa Sinha, and many Ashdown residents remained opposed.

Despite lingering dissatisfaction with the hasty process and time limitations placed on soliciting student input, most participants seem to be optimistic about the resulting building, including some Ashdown residents heavily involved with the process.

In an e-mail to the Ashdown community, Housemaster Terry P. Orlando wrote, “I personally feel that the compromise was reasonable, workable, and represented a considerable concession from the administration.” Still under negotiation is the possibility of a dining hall, as well as the number and size of common kitchens, Orlando wrote.

The subcommittees on community and programming will continue their work over the next year.

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