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Building W1 will undergo a complete renovation before it reopens as an undergraduate dormitory in the fall of 2010.
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Building W1, the current graduate dormitory Ashdown House, will be completely renovated before reopening as an undergraduate residence in the fall of 2010, administrators said yesterday.

In the meantime, 68 undergraduates will move into NW35, a new graduate residence slated to open in August 2008. This group of students will form the core of the new W1 community when the residence reopens. Additionally, the housemasters of the new W1 will be convening a founders group of approximately 10 undergraduates who will be closely involved in the discussions of the details of the new dormitory.

Although the founders group will be tackling almost all aspects of the new dormitory, a few decisions have already been made. W1 will not permit smoking or pets and will have a dining hall and a dining program.

MIT has decided to undertake a “comprehensive renovation” of W1, said Kirk D. Kolenbrander, vice president for Institute affairs. Various plans have been proposed over the past year, including partial renovation, use of the dormitory as swing housing, or simultaneous renovation and occupancy. No decisions had been finalized until now.

W1, located at the corner of Massachusetts Ave. and Memorial Dr., is currently a graduate dormitory but will become vacant following the opening in August 2008 of the new graduate residence NW35, located in the northwest sector of campus near Sidney-Pacific graduate dormitory.

W1 is one of the oldest buildings on campus, predating even Buildings 1–10. It is “very much in need of renewal,” said Kolenbrander.

“The original plan was to do a modest renovation,” Chancellor Phillip L. Clay PhD ’75 said. However, “when we got into it, we decided we could not do a modest renovation because the building has so many needs.” Clay added that even if MIT did not renovate W1 now, it would have to revisit that decision within the next five years.

Undergraduate student leaders welcomed the decision to go with a complete renovation, as it matched their own recommendations. Undergraduate Association President Martin F. Holmes ’08 said he was “thrilled” that the administration has chosen a complete renovation for W1, as this plan avoids situations that will “disrupt the students that will be living in the dorm.”

Dormitory Council President Sarah C. Hopp ’08 said, “I’m especially happy they decided to put money into the dorm, because we don’t need another undergraduate dorm that is in need of repair.”

The decision to proceed with complete renovations comes as details of its costs and funding are still hazy. Kolenbrander did not know quantitatively what the cost for renovations would be. Although “some major contributions” toward the project have been secured, according to Kolenbrander, funding for the project may come in part from the Campaign for Students, a current effort to raise $500 million over five years.

Despite the uncertainty in funding, “we’re committed to making it happen, and I have every confidence our donors will be an important part of this undertaking,” said Kolenbrander.

Founders group to shape new dorm

Many aspects of the new dormitory will be influenced by a founders group to be convened by the new W1 housemasters, Linguistics Professor Suzanne Flynn and her husband Jack Carroll. “There is much yet to be decided,” said Kolenbrander.

Patterned after the founders groups formed for the construction of Simmons Hall, Sidney-Pacific, and The Warehouse, the W1 founders group will consist of about 10 undergraduates, according to Dean for Student Life Larry G. Benedict. Details about the founders group itself are still being hashed out with Flynn and Carroll, said Benedict. More information, including how to join the group, should be available in the next few weeks.

In addition to the founders group, there are plans for a “colony” of undergraduates to move into NW35 temporarily while W1 is being renovated, Benedict said. According to a presentation given by the Housing Office last night to the residents of Ashdown House, these undergraduates will occupy 68 of the 549 spaces available in NW35.

These students are intended to become the core of the new W1 community, as the majority of them will be moving to W1 once it is completed. Even though only current freshmen will still be undergraduates when W1 is slated to reopen in 2010, whether the colony will have only underclassmen or students from all classes is an issue that “has not been resolved,” Benedict said.

New dorm to include dining hall

Although the founders group will have much flexibility to shape the new W1 community, there are a few “givens” that have already been determined, Benedict said.

The housemasters for W1 are already set, and W1 will also have associate housemasters. Smoking and pets, permitted in some other dormitories, will not be allowed.

Finally, there will be a dining room and a dining program in the new dormitory, as the kitchens currently on each floor in W1 are to be removed.

Students have raised some concerns about this final point, especially as there is currently a committee undertaking a comprehensive review of the future of dining at MIT. “Dining is being evaluated this year from the bottom up,” Hopp said. “Saying that W1 will have a dining hall doesn’t fit with that evaluation very well.”

Benjamin J. Bloom ’08 also expressed dismay that the mandate that there must be a dining hall existed even before the W1 Steering Group started meeting. Bloom was a member of the W1 Steering Group committee that was created last fall to explore the options for W1.

Bloom pointed out that the dining hall in W1 will be close to two already struggling dining halls in McCormick Hall and Baker House.

The founders group would have a large amount of flexibility in shaping the future layout of W1 in all areas except for the dining room, to be created from the Hulsizer Room, and its adjoining large kitchen. These areas will be “the only space that we are recreating exactly as is,” Clay said.

“The president’s committed to dining. I’m committed to dining. Larry [Benedict]’s committed to dining,” Clay said. “We have not built in recent years a residence hall that does not have dining.”

Senior Segue may end next year

The creation of a colony of undergraduates in NW35 may also mean the end of Senior Segue, a program in which undergraduate seniors may apply for a limited number of spaces in graduate housing. Senior Segue was introduced in 2001 as a temporary measure to mitigate crowding in undergraduate dormitories, and it was supposed to end last year, according to Benedict.

“We’re hoping to end Senior Segue this year,” though the final decision will not be made for another three or four weeks, Benedict said.

Graduate Student Council President Leeland B. Ekstrom G expressed cautious optimism about the news that Senior Segue would likely end next year. Although having full graduate student occupancy in all of the graduate dormitories would have been the “optimal solution” for graduate students, having a firm commitment both to end Senior Segue and to house undergraduates in NW35 for only two years is “the next most optimal solution,” said Ekstrom.

No plans to renovate other dorms

The decision to use W1 immediately as an entirely new undergraduate dormitory also rules out previous proposals to use W1 as a swing space to house displaced students while other existing undergraduate dormitories undergo renovations. According to Benedict, there are currently “no immediate plans” to renovate East Campus and Burton-Conner, two of the dormitories with the greatest need for renewal.

When asked why renovations to East Campus and Burton-Conner are not also being pursued along with or instead of renovations to W1, Kolenbrander replied that “W1 is a treasure in the opportunities it provides. Ultimately, the opportunities are so compelling, we had to pursue them.”