Preliminary assessments on Walker Memorial have identified the ninety-four year old building as a potential new home for MIT’s Music and Theater program.
According to Associate Provost Martin A. Schmidt, “The Music and Theater program has had a need for new space for a number of years now,” namely for practice and performance purposes. The program’s needs have recently become a priority, and Walker may be a location to fulfill those needs.
Architect William Welles Bosworth, MIT class of 1889, modeled the building after gentlemen’s clubs of the 19th Century. As one of the earliest buildings on campus, Walker is equipped with social rooms, meeting rooms, offices, athletic facilities, dining rooms and four large event rooms.
“Walker could not only enhance Music and Theater, but the building itself could also greatly benefit from revitalization,” Schmidt said. As of now, a core building evaluation has been made and ongoing assessments have been approved.
Facilities will determine if “roofs, windows, heating and ventilation need major repair,” Schmidt said. The Associate Provost’s office, Music and Theater Arts, and Facilities will lead MIT in its evaluation of Walker, while assessment of current uses will primarily be done by Schmidt’s office and Phil Hughes from the Division of Student Life, Schmidt said.
However, in order to move forward with more detailed planning, Schmidt says “it is critical to understand who the building currently serves.”
Schmidt will be working with both the MIT administration and current users of Walker, who might be directly affected by the renovation. Careful planning is taking place to assure MIT’s Music and Theater program needs are met, without severely impacting the 40 student groups that are housed in Walker, he said.
Schmidt’s primary aim is to find where people can move and allocate necessary space. Schmidt hopes to “move groups in a way that will create effective synergies” which may mean moving around or combining group spaces.
Before sending out an e-mail announcement to groups in Walker last Friday, Philip J. Walsh, director of Campus Activities Complex, met with the UA, GSC, ASA, and communicated with other student groups who have historical attachment to Walker: WMBR-88.1 FM, the Black Student Union, and the Rainbow Lounge community.
Walsh said his concern is ensuring the community is notified of a potential restoration. To encourage feedback and facilitate open communication, he has met with many groups individually and is looking to hold a general meeting for all Walker patrons.
According to Walsh, “although there are several groups who have a strong connection to the building historically, many are open to change and want to see if there’s any value in renovation.”
Association of Student Activities chair Rebecca Krentz-Wee ’12 said Walsh assured her that members of UA, GSC, and ASA would all either serve on a committee or engage in direct periodic meetings with the administration to guarantee student representation.
In response to Walsh’s meeting with her, Krentz-Wee says she is happy the Walker restoration was brought to her attention before started. “It’s good to have that input from the beginning. It’s a good sign MIT is taking this year for evaluation and bringing in student opinion, rather than suddenly springing on a change,” she said.
The ASA’s concern lies with “making sure the elaborate setups of student groups does not disappear.” Krentz-Wee’s objective is to pinpoint and communicate effectively to the administration the resources and space groups need. Some groups use Walker for storage but other groups, such as WMBR, put money and work into their space.
Krentz-Wee notes the groups who will be especially impacted by the change include the MIT Radio Society and Rainbow Lounge on the third floor, Muddy Charles on the first floor, and GSC on the second. According to Krentz-Wee, continued contact is vital. As of now, she will “continue to push for space until they take it away.”
If all happens as expected, large student groups like the Black Student Union could find themselves moving out of Walker by next summer. However, it is also possible that such groups will be allowed to stay in the building and change rooms.
Schmidt emphasizes that no definitive decisions about student group movement will be made immediately. Although there is much uncertainty with regards to student group movement and restoration plans, one decision is finalized: nobody will be impacted during this coming academic year.