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Investigation Complete In One Broadway Fire

Building Expected to Be Open Soon, MIT Says

By Rosa Cao
and Eric S. Wang

The Dec. 8, 2006 explosion of an NSTAR transformer at One Broadway was a “tragic accident,” states the report from a joint investigation conducted by the Cambridge Fire Department and Massachusetts State Fire Services. According to the press release, the investigation team ruled out any criminal act but could not determine if the accident was due to “human error, procedural error, or malfunction of safety mechanisms.”

One Broadway was acquired by MIT in 1999 and is currently run by the MIT Investment Management Company (MITIMCO). The building has been officially closed since the explosion, which caused a major electrical fire and killed one NSTAR worker, though tenants have been allowed limited access during specific hours. According to the MIT News Office, MITIMCO has offered tenants temporary office space and full rent abatement while cleaning of the building and the construction of electrical and mechanical systems towards a “temporary solution” for occupancy progress.

Though its 800 occupants are primarily commercial tenants, the building also houses the OpenCourseWare department and some Sloan offices.

On Jan. 5 MITIMCO released the final report from consulting firm Environmental Health & Engineering, which concluded that “the building is safe for re-occupancy based on postcleaning sample results and inspections.” Retail stores on the first floor of the building (Wainwright Bank, Dunkin’ Donuts, Enterprise Rent-A-Car and Domino’s Pizza) had received city safety approval to re-open by Jan. 2. The building has been expected to fully re-open to all tenants sometime this week, although the latest release from Marsh on Jan. 5 suggests there is still uncertainty as to the exact timeline.

Cambridge Fire Chief Gerard Reardon remarked, “it’s probably the extensive electric damage” that is delaying the building’s re-opening. A month after the fire, the building is still being powered by temporary generators located on Third St.

Calls to Steven C. Marsh, MIT’s Managing Director of Real Estate, were not returned. Other members of MITIMCO declined to comment, as did the Office of Vice President for Institute Affairs Kirk D. Kolenbrander.

NSTAR has removed all three transformers from the building for examination. They could not comment on the progress of its ongoing internal investigation.

Jennifer Mieth from State Fire Services said, “Of course people [MIT and NStar] are being careful about what they are saying, since there will likely be litigation.”

There do not appear to be long-term health threats to those who were exposed to smoke during the fire. A memo from David Diamond, Chief of Medicine at MIT Medical, concludes, “Although the smoke was intense and trace amounts of chemicals and metals were detected in the analyzed soot, the duration of inhalation would not lead to a significant increase in an average person’s lifetime exposure to these potentially unhealthy airborne chemicals and particles.”