After Monday night’s Walker Memorial community meeting, the fate of Walker Memorial as a student space is still unclear. Associate Provost Martin A. Schmidt PhD ’88 addressed the concerns of student groups whose space in Walker may be affected by a potential renovation and repurposing of the building.
“I want to make it clear that to this day, no decision has been made,” Schmidt said.
The meeting was primarily an information session and open forum addressing the administration’s detailed study of potentially repurposing Walker Memorial for use by Music and Theater Arts (MTA). The concerns addressed at the meeting included the use of the building as a large event space, geographic accessibility, the potential impact on student groups, and alternate approaches to satisfying the needs of MTA that would minimize the effect on Walker.
Schmidt said the administration is doing all it can to get all the information on the table. They plan to quantify concerns by looking at records of how the Walker space is used and gather specific concerns from the affected student groups.
“Before we start looking at how we could use the building in the future, we need to understand how this building is used today,” Schmidt said.
Schmidt also noted that the motivation behind the project was not only to provide MTA with needed additional performance space, but also to tackle a deferred maintenance problem by bringing Walker up to today’s standards. Schmidt explained the benefits of renovating the building, noting that the third floor gym cannot be used as a large public event space because its current occupancy cap is 49, with an exception for exams, since the space is so far below code.
The administration wishes to assess the technical qualities of the building to see if Walker is acoustically suitable for MTA, as well as research the official and unofficial uses of Walker that would be affected by the potential changes, said Schmidt. Several of the architects the administration sought at the end of fall term have submitted bids to work on the project, and MIT is prepared to accept a bid as early as the end of next week. Once accepted, the chosen firm will proceed with a detailed evaluation of the building and give estimates of the cost and timeline for a renovation, if the project is deemed feasible.
Schmidt estimates that the entire renovation process would take about two to three years — if the administration decides to proceed with the project, enough funds are raised, and proper accommodations are made for the student groups currently in Walker.
“I believe that if people are using this building, they’re using it for a good reason and to advance the mission of the Institute,” Schmidt said. “It is the Institute’s responsibility to find space for the different student groups and facilitate their move, should they have to move.”
To Schmidt’s knowledge, the Institute has not dealt with a project like the repurposing of Walker Memorial in the past. Graduate Student Council President Ulric J. Ferner G said that even after the meeting, he was still concerned with the administration’s priorities in addressing students about the project. Ferner said that there was no specific timeline communicated by administrators detailing how students would be consulted about the changes.
“The administration needs to speed up the process of student engagement … to correct this perceived imbalance,” Ferner said. The GSC looks forward to continuing the dialogue with the administration so that as many groups as possible can benefit from this process, he added.
The administration hopes to decide whether to move forward with a Walker renovation by the end of this semester.