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Last Saturday, the doors to Maseeh Hall finally opened for students — but only if they wore safety gear.

Construction helmets and safety glasses were stacked in McCormick Dining Hall, waiting for the day’s tours.

Maseeh Hall, known as W1 or Ashdown before its namesake’s generous donation, was originally the Riverbank Court Hotel from 1901 to 1937. In 1938, the hotel became MIT’s first west campus dorm, known as the “Graduate House.” Though Professor Avery Allen Ashdown was the dorm’s first housemaster, he was not new to the role; he served Senior House back when it was the original Graduate House. The housecleaning staff from W1’s hotel days remained and tended to the rooms of 400 lucky residents. Cars and carriages used to pass through the building’s driveway, which is now the lobby. According to Project Manager Sonia Richards, scratches from wayward vehicles are still evident on the lobby’s pillars today.

At the end of the tour, Dean for Student Life Chris Colombo commented on the positive progress of the construction thanks to the multimillion dollar gift of Fariborz Maseeh ScD ’90: “It is a lot further along than the last tour I did.” Colombo took a tour with the Pheonix Group and their Housemaster Jack Carroll last October. Looking toward the future, Colombo said, “It’s going to be a remarkable building and a true enhancement for students and the residential life program.”

“This building has a rich history at MIT, and to return it to its former grandeur as an undergraduate residence is a wonderful moment for the Institute community,” he added.

“Between our current residents and social members [students who do not live with the Phoenix Group but participate informally in the community’s events], there are approximately 100 students who have said they plan to move into Maseeh Hall,” said Carroll. As of yesterday afternoon, DSL has received 131 applications from other students to join the Maseeh community, according to Manager of Housing Assignments Adam J. Keyes. The deadline to apply for housing in Maseeh Hall is Feb. 28, and the application can be found at http://housing.mit.edu/maseeh_hall_application.

Dining amenities

Maseeh’s dining hall eclipses all others on campus in terms of size, selection, and style.

Of the 208 mantles throughout the building, two original fireplaces will be active. The North Dining Hall, facing the MIT Chapel, will hold approximately 160 diners. It also includes a private dining room, which will fit an additional 50–60 students. This dining room will be open for regular use when events aren’t taking place. The South Dining Room, which will fit approximately 150 students, is also impressive. The only residential dining facility that comes close to Maseeh’s capacity of approximately 360 students is Next House’s, which can hold 250, according to Director of Housing Dennis Collins.

“This is probably one of my favorite rooms,” Richards explained on the tour, claiming the lighting and river view will contribute to a classy environment.

In the center of the room, stations serving up grill, deli, salad, and late-night selections will offer meals as part of Maseeh’s all-you-can-eat meal plan.

The Hillel Community will also benefit from Maseeh’s design. A kosher station, which is unique to this dining hall, will offer lunch and dinner prepared across the street at the Religious Activities Center. According to a November article from the MIT News Office, “Residents of McCormick Hall, Baker House, Next House and Simmons Hall may order kosher meals one day in advance to be delivered to their dining halls for dinner the next night.”

Energy improvements

The MIT News Office reported in November that Director of Campus Dining Richard D. Berlin III says that composting, cooking oil conversion to biodiesel, and energy-saving equipment will help this dining hall “set the standard” for dining facilities. Despite Massachusetts’ already “strict energy code,” Richards said Maseeh has improved upon those basic requirements.

Richards also has high expectations that Maseeh will receive LEED certification, a rating from the U.S. Green Building Council for energy efficient buildings. “We are expecting to achieve a minimum of LEED Silver certification for Maseeh Hall and are hoping to achieve enough credits for LEED Gold certification” after construction is complete.

Although renovated buildings typically have difficulty achieving a Gold rating, Richards is optimistic: “Students living here in the building can help with that.”

Heat recovery units on the roof will put escaping heat to use, dual-flush toilets will conserve water, and thermally separated windows will reduce energy waste. In addition, the windows facing noisy Memorial Drive and Massachusetts Avenue traffic will be made of laminated glass, increasing “the Sound Transmission Coefficient (STC) to provide better sound abatement,” according to Richards. Real-time energy meters on each floor will show curious residents their energy usage.

A theme throughout the Maseeh Hall construction plans is the use of recycled and regional materials, including local green grueby tiles on a couple of dormant fireplaces. About 75 percent of the existing building structure has been maintained, including the majestic self-supporting tile of the entry canopy. In fact, the new building was honored in 2010 with the Cambridge Historical Commission Preservation Award for project quality and historical significance.

Next fall, 462 undergraduate students, including those from the Phoenix Group, will become the first residents of the renovated Maseeh Hall.

With space for 70–80 students on each floor, Maseeh will be the dorm with the largest number of beds. There will be two GRTs per floor, offering a student-to-GRT ratio typical of the other dorms, according to Richards. The dorm offers 77 singles, 166 doubles, and 19 triples.

The West Tower, where the dining hall lies, will host five residential floors, whereas the East Tower will have seven. The east and west ends of every floor except the first will be connected by a hallway bridging the two sides. These hallways will contain lounges facing the river, bookended by original mantles, and will offer students a place to study or just hang out. Bathrooms on each floor will be coed. Elevator and stair access to the residential floors will require a Maseeh Hall resident to swipe his or her MIT ID card. Rooms and floor lounges will not have air-conditioning, but the “lobby, dining rooms, servery areas, and ground floor student life spaces” will, according to Richards.

“We hope to have [the associate housemaster] in place during the spring term so [he or she] can get to know the current Phoenix Group community and begin to participate in planning activities,” Carroll said.

Maseeh Hall will take part in residence-based advising, which is new for the Phoenix Group. This collection of undergraduates has lived together since Fall 2008, joining the Ashdown graduate community in NW35, also known as “New Ashdown.” That fall, the weak economy forced MIT to postpone W1’s development “indefinitely,” according to the Phoenix Group website. It wasn’t until two years later, after the $24 million gift from Fariborz Maseeh, that the Phoenix Group’s hopes to rise from Ashdown’s ashes came to life.

“I look forward to seeing how Maseeh Hall — drawing on the efforts of the Phoenix Group students and Housemasters — becomes another strong, unique residential community within the MIT campus culture,” said Colombo.

Additional rooms in Maseeh will house residential scholars, individuals visiting campus that include professionals and professors on sabbatical from other institutions. These individuals are expected to act as an “academic resource to the house, actively participating in house activities and hosting one event per term,” Carroll said. The Housemasters, Suzanne Flynn and Jack Carroll, will live on the 6th floor of the East Tower, whereas the Associate Housemaster, a role for which recruiting is currently taking place, will live on the 3rd floor of the West Tower.