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Ashdown To Be Replaced

By Rosa Cao and Kelley Rivoire

When a new graduate dormitory opens in the fall of 2008, it will house the relocated residents of the oldest graduate dormitory on campus, Ashdown House.

“I think everyone associated with Ashdown is sad” about the future move, said Ashdown Housemaster Ann Orlando, who added that a new space will also create new opportunities for community.

Last week, at the annual town-gown meeting before the Cambridge Planning Board, MIT announced plans to build a new 400–500 bed dormitory, to be located next to Sidney-Pacific graduate dormitory and also in close proximity to two other graduate residences.

Relocating residents of Ashdown to the new dormitory will make the building available to serve as swing housing as other campus dormitories are renovated, according the town-gown report.

Housemaster Terry P. Orlando served on a Housing Task Group that produced a report in the spring of 2004 on possible housing strategies, including the construction of a new graduate dormitory, but said he was not aware of any student or housemaster input having been solicited between then and now.

Dean for Student Life Larry G. Benedict, who has headed up the plans for the new dormitory, was unavailable for comment yesterday.

Ashdown residents may be involved in some aspects of the new dormitory’s design, including the common spaces, the Orlandos said. “The process for us has just started,” said Ann Orlando, who said she and her husband were notified by Benedict’s office about MIT’s decision to relocate the dormitory only days before the town-gown meeting.

While there are no shared bedrooms planned in the new dormitory’s design, some aspects of the layout would potentially mimic Ashdown’s, GSC Housing and Community Affairs committee chair Andr a E. Schmidt wrote in an e-mail, “including such aspects as relatively inexpensively priced rooms and apartments without kitchens.”

Housemasters Ann and Terry P. Orlando said they estimate they have already received feedback from about 100 current and former members of the Ashdown community since announcing the dormitory’s future closure in an e-mail to residents last Friday.

“It’s played an important role in the residential housing system and graduate community as whole,” said Albert C. Chow G, former Ashdown House Executive Committee President and a resident of Ashdown since 2001.

Organizations like the Chinese Students and Scholars Association and many other graduate groups hold events at Ashdown. “We have a rich set of common spaces, and we host a lot of events open to the community at large as well,” said Chow, Ashdown’s sixth floor representative this year.

Former AHEC member Bogdan I. Fedeles G, also an Arts writer for The Tech, said “saving Ashdown has been the top priority of every AHEC team for the past 10 years. We’ve always fought dearly for making our voice heard.”

The percentage of Ashdown’s residents who will choose to relocate to the new building is presently unknown, Orlando said.

Ashdown provides single graduate students with a home that is closer to campus than any other graduate residence and costs far less than most other graduate dormitories. Rents for the new residence, not yet announced, are “very much a concern for us,” Terry Orlando said, since many students who choose to live in Ashdown cannot afford to live in many of the more expensive graduate residences.

There is “certainly a need for low-cost housing” for graduate students, Terry Orlando said.

“I don’t know about the new dorm, its location or design,” current Ashdown Graduate Student Council representative Harish Mukundan said. “Maybe it’ll be more modern, but it won’t be as nice; it won’t be as close to campus, it probably won’t be as affordable.”

From his perspective as an international student, Mukundan said “Unless the rent is comparable to Ashdown, I think it will be a significant setback.”

Currently, rents in Ashdown range from $513 per month for a single to $562 for a deluxe double; in MIT’s three newest graduate residences, the cheapest double rooms cost $569 per month and singles can cost as much as $1269 per month.

The new dormitory will likely house some combination of apartments with multiple bedrooms and some efficiencies, Ann Orlando said. Additionally, the move will leave little housing close to MIT’s main buildings for single graduate students. “I think people do enjoy the proximity” of Ashdown, Terry Orlando said.

The Orlandos, who will remain as housemasters in the relocated dormitory, said they hope to maintain at least some of the long-lived traditions of Ashdown in the new building.

A 30-year-old tradition of Thursday night Coffee Hour, which now draws an average of 120 residents, will likely continue in the new space, Terry Orlando said. Ann Orlando said that she also hopes the Thirsty Ear, a pub located in the basement of Ashdown, which has been a cornerstone of the community, will also make the move.

“A 70-year tradition in one space is a very important part” of Ashdown’s culture, Ann Orlando said, and unfortunately, there are “things that won’t be able to be translated to a new space.”

“We are trying to be mindful of the community that has evolved in Ashdown and trying to incorporate some aspects of Ashdown in the new dorm,” Schmidt wrote.

“At the same time, a new space and proximity to other graduate residences will create new opportunities to connect graduate students, Terry Orlando said, making the planned move “a bit of a mixed bag.”

“It’s very sad that we’re losing our home” Chow said. “It means a lot to us.”

While some graduate students are already mourning Ashdown’s closure, Ashdown resident and GSC HCA chair Eric Weese wrote in an e-mail that it seems “somewhat bizarre for graduate students to be disappointed by a huge chunk of capital being allocated to provide housing for them.”

“The idea of a graduate student community [in Northwest campus] is pretty nice, and that’s been on the table for several years,” Fedeles said. Referring to an AHEC meeting with the administration last year, he said, “Ike Colbert said he would like to live there.”

But “a good graduate community is fragile,” Chow said. “It’s a delicate process to move it.”

The new dormitory would also further the administration’s stated objective of housing at least half of graduate students on campus with its proposed number of beds over Ashdown’s current 360, wrote Weese.

Ashdown, later named for its first housemaster Avery Allen Ashdown in 1965, became MIT’s first west campus building when it opened in 1938 after MIT acquired and remodeled the Riverbank Court Hotel, which was originally built in 1901.

It was populated by students relocated from Graduate House (now Senior House). Avery Ashdown served as the first housemaster of the original Graduate House and remained housemaster of the relocated residence through 1962.