No East Campus roller coaster this year

City of Cambridge demands building permits for load-bearing structures

There will be no East Campus roller coaster this year, revealed Mike T. Nawrot ’12, EC rush chair, in a video released last week. The City of Cambridge required the dormitory to obtain building permits for their coaster, but the process was not completed in time.

In a video sent to — actually the East Campus rush mailing list — on August 18, Nawrot explains that the rush chairs “recently” found out that they would need to work more closely with Cambridge for the roller coaster project to happen, get permits and potentially enlist an outside contractor to help run the event.

The change in policy comes after a fire alarm at East Campus last year brought the dormitory rush to the attention of the city.

“The fire department saw the roller coaster, and when they found out that there were no permits that were pulled for the construction, they reported it to city of Cambridge,” said Henry J. Humphreys, the senior associate dean of residential life and dining. “At that time, the city of allowed it to stay up for a couple of days working at the Institute, but it had to come down early, and any future construction would require construction permits in order to be built.”

The roller coaster is not the only EC rush building to be affected by the need for a permit. Fort Sexy Time, an outdoor lounge built by EC residents each year as a hangout spot to meet freshmen, would have to be restricted to one story.

“Building code is quite elaborate,” Humphreys said. Fort Sexy Time and the roller coaster are both load bearing structures and would require a permit. A load bearing structure is one that must be able to support the weight of several people. However, EC would be allowed to build structures only six inches off the ground without a building permit.

“The way the process works is anything that is built anywhere in Massachusetts, if you design a load-bearing structure, those designs have to be approved by engineer,” Humphreys explained. “Plans have to be submitted by a licensed contractor or construction company, to any city to be considered for approval. The city can ask for modifications, and have 30 days to decide whether or not to approve the construction project. It is state of Massachusetts building code that only a contractor to submit a request for a building permit.”

The plan was to get building approval this year, but it took longer than expected to get a permit. “The EC REX committee engaged environmental health and safety and the director of housing, Dennis Collins, five weeks ago and that’s when they started this process. It was fairly quickly on, two weeks into the planning that environmental health and safety realized it might be more complicated to get approved than initially thought,” Humphreys said.

The rush chairs and EHS had known about the building permit in the abstract for a while, Humphreys clarified, but did not originally know that it would be required and could become such an obstacle.

“I know from emails I saw in correspondence between [EC Rush Chairs] and Dennis Collins and a person from EHS that they were communicating,” Humphreys said. “At that point they were trying to express concerns about having the permit that would be needed to do the construction projects.”

It was not until August 15 when the EC housemasters, president, rush chairs, EHS and Humphreys met and spoke about what was feasible and how to move forward.

“By the time East Campus got together with the Institute” to get everything planned, Humphreys said, “it was determined too short a time span existed to do everything needed to be done to satisfy the City of Cambridge building regulations.”

Nawrot elaborated on the crunched time line the EC rush chairs faced.

“We started talking to safety weeks ago in July, over a month ago … but the building permit was only brought to our attention on the 15th, that it was actually going to be an issue,” he said. “Tuesday and Wednesday we spent all day finding potential structural engineers we could work with and went through process; getting drawings made, people telling us what they thought. We did find a person who could sign off on our documents. We were informed on Wednesday night that we would need an outside contractor. The decision to go down a different path was made on late Wednesday night. New plan developed Thursday. Rush started Friday.”

Asked about the delay in the communication about the importance of the permit, Nawrot said, “We always get our projects through EHS and always talk to EHS in advance but I don’t know what goes on on their end and why it was only brought to our attention at the beginning of last week that this was going to be such an issue,” he said.

In addition, the potential need to hire an outside contractor to get everything finished in time and approved seemed contrary to the purpose of rush.

“The only way to get building permits from the info we have gathered is to hire an outside contractor, which would change the way things work a lot,” Nawrot said. Rush might then be constrained to working “9-5 on weekdays” and the entire event would “not have the same sort of spirit if it were in a professionally contracted manner.”

Asked about the spirit of EC Rush, Nawrot responded that “rush isn’t about completing a construction project like we are construction workers,” he said. “It is meant to be a student project where we come up with solutions and practice engineering in the courtyard.”

Hiring an outside contractor he added, is to “take control out of EC” so that “EC serves as labor for someone telling us how to run a construction site.”

To remedy the situation, the East Campus rush chairs decided to take a new approach.

“We decided instead of getting building permits, we would try something a little different this year just to completely avoid any sort of problems that might arise,” Nawrot explained.

“We had a problem, we worked around the problem, this REX is going to be just as awesome. Awesome and amazing,” assured James R Douberley ‘13, East Campus president.

Instead, this year’s rush will focus on a number of smaller projects. East Campus will have a private outdoor theater, merry-go-round, big swings, rotating see saw, playground backhoe, ground/wind surfer, ball pit (“We have the Bexley ball pit. We made it for Bexley. Have you seen their i3 video?” Nawrot asked.), 3D twister, Angry Birds reenactment, Static Mario, the “International House of Pillaging” which will serve cookies to passersby, and “Humility 3, the ride.”

“Humility,” Nawrot explained, is “two sets of tracks which will basically race the hand carts you use in mines.” The plan is to have freshmen race each other on the horizontal track.

“We also have static Mario,” Nawrot added, “You know how Mario side scrolls? It’s like that but the one map is stretched across 20 monitors. You walk along, it’s all one level. You can see everything at once.”

Next year, Nawrot said firmly, there will be a coaster.

“After this rush is over we are starting a very long process to restore rush to what it was in the past. We will work to get a Cambridge approved coaster … next year we will have a coaster, one way or another,” he said.

The administration wants to help make this happen for East Campus and make it easier for other student groups to get a permit as well. “I’ve assured the REX chairs for EC and housemasters that after we get through this year’s REX to sit down with facilities at MIT, myself, EHS at MIT, and Cambridge officials responsible for building permits and develop a process that all student groups can use for any building projects in the future, not just the rollercoaster, but any building project that triggers the need for a building permit,” Humphreys said.

Ideally this process will be taken care of early in the semester so the East Campus Bad Ideas Event that happens during IAP can continue without issue, added Humphreys.

“Our goal is to have a meeting very early on in the fall semester so if anything is being planned for Bad Ideas week in January that there is a process, so they are not caught last minute trying to make last minute modifications,” Humphreys said.

Asked if he had anything to add about these recent events, Humphreys concluded, “My compliments to the REX committee for EC. Given the short time frame they were able to modify a lot of their designs and work with their housemasters to come up with really good projects. A lot of credit goes to them for being creative, especially under a lot of duress.”

In his video address to EC residents he reminded them, “EC is full of incredible people, and we can do incredible things.”