Sidney-Pacific, MIT’s largest singles graduate dormitory, will undergo renovations starting this coming summer to replace the main heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system. As a result, sections of the building will be temporarily closed for renewal, displacing 370 residents from their rooms to other ends of the dormitory, off-campus, or elsewhere in the graduate dormitory system.
As a result, no new graduate students will be permitted to move into the dormitory until the renovations are complete.
The announcement came in an email to Sidney-Pacific (SidPac) residents this past Tuesday. The next day, Dean of Residential Life and Dining Henry Humphreys and Director of Renovations and Renewal Michael Kearns called a town hall meeting at SidPac where students voiced their frustration.
SidPac residents attending the meeting asked questions ranging from whether seniority-housing points would translate to other dorms, to issues of how the renovations will affect utilities.
In the town hall meeting and subsequent interview with The Tech, Humphreys indicated that a few options were available for those displaced graduate students. These residents may choose to stay in SidPac, but must move into a two-bedroom quad suite on another side of the dormitory, necessitating students sharing the same bedroom.
To some at the town hall, this was the most unsavory option. “When you come back and suddenly you have another person in your room and that is not going to work… and it’s your room, are you forced out when someone invades your home?” one resident asked Humphreys.
Students may also be placed in other dormitories in the graduate housing system or find off-campus housing.
“This past year we were at capacity both for single and married graduate housing. We did have availability in Tang this past year, but whether that will occur this coming year, I honestly can’t tell you,” said Humphreys, when asked where the 370 students will relocate.
The housing office will give SidPac residents who decide to stay the option to cancel their housing without penalty at any time. If these students choose to move off-campus at any point after choosing to stay in the dorm, their continuing status — the ability to remain in SidPac — will still be maintained. Students who move out before the renovations begin will forfeit their continuing status.
Those students who choose to take the two-bedroom quad option will also have some of their rent reduced, though the specific details of this have not been determined. Humphreys said that no other financial assistance will be given to students planning to move off-campus.
For those residents who are not asked to move, the construction may still affect day-to-day life at SidPac. “There will be single-digit, small short term shutdowns… electricity, chilled water, and something like that. We’ll schedule those at the best time for building and with plenty of notice,” stated Matthew Kearns in the town hall.
Other issues associated with the renovations have not been fully determined, such as the hours when the construction will take place, when students will have to enter into an inter-building lottery if they choose to switch dorms, and what will happen to the current residents’ seniority points if they choose to move off campus. “We wanted to work with the student leadership to answer those particular questions,” said Humphreys in a response to a question regarding accumulating housing points after leaving SidPac and rejoining.
More important to residents, however, was the prospect of losing the community in SidPac.
“If there are no new residents coming in during construction year, then you will have no new people that will be able to make that community,” claimed another resident during the town hall.
“SPEC and the student government’s biggest concern going forward is to keep the community together during the construction,” said Jenny Wang G, President of the Sidney-Pacific Executive Council, in an email to The Tech. “The culture in SP is very special on campus so we want to preserve it for the future.”
The planned renovations at SidPac most closely resemble last year’s Bexley shutdown. “The key thing that we learned during Bexley… is constantly communicating with the group of leaders,” said Humphreys. “I want to make sure we keep rumors down to a minimum… students are already stressed enough about having a project going on.”
Wang reiterated the communication effort from the student government perspective. She said, “There will be a continuing conversation between the administration, the student leadership, and the residents over the next weeks and months as the planning progresses.”
In the interview, Humphreys emphasized maintaining communication with the students affected throughout the process. “We will have as many meetings as we need to have with the students to get them to a place where we know that they’re comfortable personally, but also that the community feels like they’re sustainable,” he said.
A frequently asked questions handout, given during the first town hall meeting, also requested students send their questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.