MIT Discusses Community Impact At Cambridge Town Gown Meeting

On Tuesday night, MIT met with the Cambridge Planning Board at the annual Town Gown meeting to report on its relationship with the Cambridge community, including the status of past and pending building projects. Lesley University, Harvard University, and Cambridge College also presented at the public meeting, which evaluates the institutions’ impacts on the community.

The updates on the state of construction at MIT were provided by Richard L. Amster, Jr., the director of Facilities Planning and Construction. MIT’s major upcoming project is the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research. Amster said that MIT “plans to break ground next month.” The site for the building is at the intersection of Main St. and Ames St., on part of the current location of the East parking lot.

New parking will be provided by the Sloan School expansion, where an underground parking lot will include 425 parking spaces. The Sloan School will also receive an additional 207,000 gross square feet for classrooms. The Sloan expansion is expected to be finished in 2010.

The report also included information about the construction of New Ashdown (NW35), the new graduate dormitory to be located at the corner of Pacific St. and Albany St. New Ashdown, which will include 550 beds, will be completed in time for the Fall 2008 semester.

The current Ashdown House, at 305 Memorial Dr., will be transformed into a new undergraduate dormitory. According to Amster, “we didn’t anticipate that it was going to be a renovation.” The plans for that project are still in the first stages. “We’re going to go out and procure a builder and architect,” said Amster. Ashdown is expected to reopen for students in two years.

Each of the universities’ representatives talked about their plans to decrease the impact on the environment by reducing energy use. The universities referred several times to the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System, administered by the non-profit U.S. Green Building Council. The LEED system rates buildings on a standardized scale, based on “sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials and resources selection, and indoor environmental quality,” according to the USGBC Web site.

The Brain and Cognitive Sciences Building, which is three years old, received the LEED silver rating, according to Amster. New Ashdown is expected to “get LEED silver,” according to Amster. One of the peculiar energy challenges faced by MIT involves the fact that laboratories “require five to ten times the air changes of normal office buildings,” he said.

Amster stated that another challenge for MIT is the competitive nature of research. “We have to be flexible and quick so that once we find a researcher and a need, we need to move quickly to find a lab for them,” he said. Amster said buildings with large floors instead of towers facilitate interdisciplinary collaborative research.

Steven C. Marsh, the managing director of real estate at the MIT Investment Management Company, presented on MIT’s real estate ventures in Cambridge. According to Marsh, the Investment Company has “become a little more defensive in the last year and a half,” and sold some of their holdings in Cambridge, such as the Hotel@MIT, which is now called Le Méridien.

MIT, like the other universities, is focusing on improving street-level retail stores. Some recent retail additions to the MIT community include Citibank and the restaurants Sebastian’s and Cosi. MIT and the City of Cambridge collaborated in 2007 on the Central Square Theatre, a new black-box theatre being built that will house two professional theatre groups. MIT owned the land and was the site developer for the project, according to a May 2007 MIT News Office article. Marsh said that the theatre project, combined with the increased retail presence, will “add some vitality” to the community.

According to Marsh, the Investment Management Company is “busy preparing some of our properties for lease.” These include 640 Memorial Dr. (which is currently leased to Millenium Pharmaceuticals) and 1 Broadway. Last year, 1 Broadway was damaged in a severe fire caused by the explosion of an NSTAR transformer. It has taken an entire year for the permanent power to be replaced in the building and now the Investment Management Company is “thinking about streetscape and façade” to improve the appearance of the building, said Marsh.

Although the MIT Investment Management Company is decreasing its holdings in Cambridge now, it will “continue to pursue Cambridge investments over time,” said Marsh.

MIT’s presentation to the Cambridge Board was well received by both the members of the Board and the Cambridge residents who were present. The Board did not raise any complaints to the MIT presenters, but they did bring up complaints about Harvard and Lesley.