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Kendall Square Site Newest Option for Alum Residences

By Jiao Wang
STAFF REPORTER

A location on Third Street near Kendall Square in Cambridge has been identified as the most recent possibility for the site of a planned residential community originally targeted at senior members of the MIT community. The planned buildings, which would consist of 160 residential units, would require modifications to existing plans. Occupancy could begin as early as late summer 2008, according to the University Residential Community Web site.

Professor of Electrical Engineering and President Emeritus Paul E. Gray ’54, one of the founders of the project, said he has been talking with the site’s developer for six weeks. The original plan consists of two buildings with a courtyard in-between. The North building would house 250-260 rental apartments. The South building will either be “built according to the original plan of 239 condominiums and they would be sold off to whoever will buy them … or to our specifications of 160 units.”

Construction for URC was delayed for a long time due to a lack of affordable sites within walking distance of MIT. Sites were considered as early as 2004 but were lost in the process of cost negotiations. “We have lost out on two bids in the past,” said Gray. Sites explored and given up include Main Street at Ames, 350 Third Street, 600 Memorial Drive, and the Worthington Apartments on Binney Street, according to the URC Web site.

A little more than 90 people and/or families have made refundable $1,000 deposits, required by URC to secure priority reservations for housing units. “I think there are more people interested and are waiting to see what emerges,” said Gray. URC has also tried to develop interest at Harvard. So far, “nothing happened yet on that front.”

While previous generations have often viewed life after retirement as completely divorced from the workplace, an increasing number of today’s senior citizens are gravitating toward the opposite spectrum, leading active lives and hoping never to be completely removed from their occupations and work communities. The idea of “Aging in Place,” as URC is sometimes called, was first proposed by Paul Grayson, a consultant specializing in retirement housing and accessible environments to a small group in 2002. It is entirely a private undertaking by Gray and others and many of its subscribers are people who have significant connections with the Institute and hope to remain forever close.

“From the very beginning, I was interested in the idea,” said Li-wen Wang, parent of an MIT student and an MIT alum. “I kind of felt lured into it...I talked to my husband and even dragged him to a meeting.”

In 1989, Wang was hired to revamp the curriculum for 7.02 Introduction to Experimental Biology and Communication, where she served as lab instructor for 12 years. In 2001, she transferred to Electrical Engineering and is currently lab instructor for 3.155/6.152 Micro/Nano Processing Technology. She states an attachment to the Institute and a desire to stay close to the retiring community as her reasons for being interested in URC.

“I have grown to like MIT so much. 18 years of my life I have dedicated to MIT and its students.”

Although MIT has been supportive of the concept and has allowed URC to use Institute resources such as e-mail to communicate, it has not contributed any funding.

“We have no MIT investment,” said Gray. “The developer would not commit to [the project] unless he knows we have access to resources...The test of reality will be when we ask people to sign up and make a deposit.” Although Gray initially targeted the residential community for people aged 55 and older, many people preferred a broader age group and this age restriction was eventually dropped.

More information can be found at URC’s website at http://web.mit.edu/ir/urc/update.html.