W1 Dorm Project Delayed As Funds Dry Up

The renovation of W1 into a new undergraduate dormitory has become a casualty of the recent economic downturn, as administrators have postponed construction by at least a year. Meanwhile, the future is uncertain for the group of undergraduates currently in Ashdown House who were slated to move into W1 in 2010.

W1 was set to be inhabited by about 400 undergraduates in fall 2010, with many decisions about the dormitory’s organization to be made in advance by the Phoenix Group, approximately 50 undergraduates currently living in Ashdown House (NW35). But to stay on schedule, contracts would need to be signed by this week, MIT told members of the Ashdown House Executive Committee last night, according to Ben Kaduk G, a member of that committee.

Citing recent economic difficulties, MIT decided to postpone renovations. The $90 million that would have been spent to renovate W1 will instead support “financial aid and other essentials to keep the academic mission moving forward at MIT,” said Dean for Student Life Chris Colombo. Funding for the project had been expected to come from mostly fundraising and general Institute funds.

It was expected that the extra students in W1 would increase the undergraduate class size. But MIT’s decision has put these plans on hold: “nothing will go forward on class size until W1 is completed,” Colombo said.

The decision to delay construction was made on Friday by Chancellor Philip L. Clay PhD ’75, President Susan J. Hockfield, Treasurer Theresa M. Stone SM ’76, and other senior administrators. At a faculty meeting on Wednesday, Stone presented the state of MIT’s finances but did not mention any possible delays in construction of W1.

MIT told Ashdown and W1 housemasters about this decision on Sunday; Undergraduate Association and Graduate Student Council leadership was told Monday morning; and members of the Phoenix Group and the Ashdown House Executive Committee were told during a Monday evening meeting.

Colombo met with the “Task Force on Student Engagement” on Monday morning and that night, Colombo and Vice Chancellor Steven R. Lerman ’72 met with members of the Phoenix Group to discuss a hold on the W1 construction schedule.

“The purpose of the meeting was to inform [students] of the situation around W1 moving forward, also discussing with them what we can do to continue to support them,” Colombo said last night.

“We had a very thorough discussion,” said Colombo. “The students started thinking about what can be done to keep the group together and make sure that they had a good living experience while they were in Ashdown until we can move forward with W1,” he said.

“[The students] weren’t overly surprised,” Colombo said. “While they are disappointed and we are disappointed, they clearly understood the reasoning behind it and they are trying to look forward in keeping this an organization that works with the administration on developing W1,” he said.

Colombo said he could not provide a specific time when the W1 renovation project would continue, but added that “there is a commitment to move forward with the plans as soon as the economy gets better.”

With the timeline currently up in the air, the future of the Phoenix Group is unclear. According to Kaduk, the Phoenix Group will likely continue living at NW35 this year, but “if long delays are predicted … the group may disband until W1 looks like a more practical option.”

In an e-mail provided to The Tech, Phoenix Group president Karl Wolff ’11 wrote to the group, “Sunday’s dinner meeting will now focus on our reaction to this new situation.”

Ashdown undergraduate residents contacted by The Tech declined to comment. According to another e-mail provided to The Tech, Wolff advised Phoenix Group residents to be cautious in talking with the press.

Phoenix Group graduate resident tutor Leah C. Acker also declined to comment and apparently encouraged her residents not to speak to The Tech. After last night’s meeting, an Ashdown resident reported by e-mail that he had been told by a GRT not to say anything that could be quoted because of uncertainty surrounding the future of W1.