Yesterday, at a meeting with the advisory group for the future of Bexley Hall, the Department of Facilities and the Division of Student Life put forth a recommendation for the demolition of the building. Formerly an undergraduate dorm, Bexley Hall was closed after commencement this past year after inspections revealed a myriad of structural issues. If the recommendation is accepted by senior MIT administrators, the proposal will go to the City of Cambridge to acquire the necessary permits to evaluate and demolish the historic building.
Director of Campus Planning, Engineering & Construction Richard L. Amster expressed that after evaluating the building’s condition, renovating and reusing the building would essentially mean rebuilding it from the ground up.
Although Amster did not disclose the preliminary cost-benefit analysis that Facilities had done, he suggested that demolishing the building and starting anew may simply be a better value for the Institute in the long run. If the building were to be renovated for structural integrity, the extent of the renovations would require that the building be brought to today’s building code standards, which would include, among other things, installing an elevator, wider doorways, and horizontal-circulation corridors. These additions would significantly increase the cost of the renovation project.
“I would have a hard time recommending to leadership to make the investment in the facility to renew it,” Amster said in an interview with The Tech.
Amster explained that, unlike Random Hall — a building that also received repairs this summer, but reopened at the start of term — Bexley Hall was in much worse shape. Bexley was checked last spring as a part of the Accelerated Capital Renewal program that was inspecting the facades of all the brick buildings on campus. After Facilities found several concerning structural issues, they sought outside guidance on how to proceed. Two engineering reports and a recommendation from a structural engineer later, Facilities recommended to the Division of Student life to close and renovate Bexley after commencement 2013.
While Facilities has been assessing Bexley, they have met four times with the Bexley advisory group, the membership of which consists of Kristjan Eerik E. Kaseniit ’14, Christopher J. Sarabalis ’14, Nicolas M. Brown ’16, and Noga Feinberg ’15 representing Bexley, DormCon President Eli H. Ross ’14, and Vice President for Residence Exploration Alina Kononov ’14 as student representatives. Much of the time in the meetings was spent going through the facts and figures that Facilities had collected in their evaluation process.
“I had the opportunity to review facts regarding Bexley’s structural concerns through engineering reports, pictures, and presentations,” Ross said. “The damage was indeed quite substantial, and I applaud DSL and the Department of Facilities for taking the time to go through these details with the group.”
Although the members of the group were well-informed of the situation regarding Bexley up until this point, they did not hear about the recommendation to demolish Bexley until only slightly before Chancellor Eric Grimson PhD ’80 announced the news to the broader Bexley community in an email.
Kaseniit said that although the recommendation was not a surprise, “The decision to demolish was made based on no input from us.”
“We were concerned that the decision to demolish versus renovate was done so hastily, especially given that demolishing leads to a plethora of options for the land, while renovation leads to the creation of a new dorm,” Kaseniit said. “We were told that there is no evil master scheme in the works behind the curtains, and it is the potential hidden costs that make demolition cheaper than renovation.”
Both Grimson and Dean of Student Life Chris Colombo expressed that there will be new undergraduate dorm to replace Bexley should these plans to demolish the building go through.
“We need to figure out how to replace the lost beds. That is a key priority for Dean Colombo and me,” said Grimson
While a new building may not be on the same site that Bexley currently occupies, the hope of students and administrators is that Bexley’s community will continue. Currently, former Bexley residents have space in the Pritchett Lounge in Walker Memorial to use for gatherings and events 24/7.
“We are glad we get to use the Pritchett Dining space, though there are still some kinks in communication with the various administrators with regards to our use of the space,” Kaseniit said. “An important issue in keeping a community going, as I’m sure many living groups here know, is the influx of like-minded people. This is somewhat hard for Bexley, given that many of us are strong individualists. We are already seeing new faces at our shenanigans in Pritchett, which is great. However, this must be more seriously discussed in any future advisory groups regarding Bexley.”
Colombo and Grimson both said that they are doing what they can to support the Bexley community through this rough time. The lounge space is only the first step — Grimson is working to convene a group to look at all of undergraduate housing at MIT, including looking at solutions for how to approach the situation if Bexley is demolished.
“I believe that at that MIT, there should be a Bexley,” Sarabalis said.