Anonymous Benefactor’s Money Will Keep Empty W1 Looking Good

Partial renovations to the W1 residence hall, the former Ashdown, will begin this spring after all, thanks to a gift from an anonymous donor. Work will be limited to the exterior of the building, and will not impact the Institute’s plan to delay the opening of W1 until after 2010. The size of the gift was not disclosed.

The renovations this spring will focus on preserving the exterior of the building, including the windows, lintels and sills, parapets, and general masonry. The building’s two cupolas will also be reclad with new copper roofs.

These outdoor renovations were given higher priority as the outside of the building has a higher chance of deteriorating over time than the inside, said Kirk Kolenbrander, Vice President for Institute Affairs and Secretary of the Corporation.

A timeline for resumption of the rest of the renovations is still unclear.

The money did not come from the existing Campaign for Students fund, but is instead “entirely new,” Kolenbrander said. The entire pledged donation has actually been committed to MIT, with the money to go toward the rehabilitation of the building.

Dean for Student Life Chris Colombo met with students in the Phoenix Group on Monday to share news of the gift. “The students for the most part were pleased,” said Colombo. “We all want the building to be ready as quickly as possible.”

Members of the Phoenix Group — a group of undergraduates currently living in Ashdown House (NW35) who will form the first community of W1 — were not consulted on how to best use the money of the gift.

Kolenbrander speculated that the donor probably wanted progress on the dormitory to continue, and renovating the outside was the best choice, given the uncertainty in when the rest of the renovations will continue.

“The gift is just the starting point,” said Colombo. “For now, we will do all the work that we can do externally to the building.”

Colombo and Kolenbrander both did not know the amount of the gift, nor the identity of the donor.

“Anonymous donations are a wonderful part of our history,” Kolenbrander said, citing the example of George Eastman, who as “Mr. Smith” provided the money to build MIT’s Cambridge campus in what is now the main group.

“The donor feels strongly that W1 is an important building,” Kolenbrander said, “and he wants to play a critical role in advancing it.”

According to Colombo, the gift will not revert the decision to postpone the original renovations and opening of W1, which was originally scheduled for fall of 2010.

The Institute’s senior administrators decided in October to postpone W1 renovations amid uncertainty due to the financial crisis. When the crisis made future endowment income unpredictable, the Institute decided not to spend the $90 million in general funds originally slated for W1.

The funds instead were reallocated to support “financial aid and other essentials to keep the academic mission moving forward at MIT,” said Colombo at the time of the decision.

The opening of W1 was also expected to be coupled with an increase in the undergraduate class size, which is now also delayed until W1 is complete.