Bexley Hall closed due to structural issues
Sudden dorm closing dispersed residents, some concerned about culture
At a meeting on May 7, 2013, residents of the former undergraduate dormitory Bexley Hall learned that the final weeks of the spring semester would be their last in the dorm, which was planned to remain closed for up to three years in order to resolve structural issues. On Apr. 29, the administration received the engineering report that recommended the building’s closure. Residents of the building were instructed to move out by June 8.
The damage to Bexley was discovered during inspections of the building’s facade as a part of the Department of Facilities’ Accelerated Capital Renewal Program. The engineering report was commissioned after Facilities’ initial evaluation. It indicated that there was water damage inside the building’s exterior walls requiring a year and a half of planning and a similar period of construction, according to Richard Amster, Director of Facilities Campus Planning, Engineering, and Construction.
Following the news, Bexley residents returning for the fall semester were given the choice of entering an emergency housing lottery to be placed in open dormitory rooms on campus or moving off campus. Chancellor Eric L. Grimson PhD ’80 assured students that there would be space in other dorms for any student who wanted to continue living on campus. Additionally, the administration offered to pay for summer storage for all Bexley residents and the cost of moving for those who opted to move off campus for the fall. The GRTs — who had signed contracts with MIT guaranteeing them on-campus housing in a graduate dorm — and housemasters were instructed to move out as soon as possible following the final exam period.
Several dorm housing chairs tried to leave spaces for Bexley students to live close together while the Bexley housing lottery was sorted out. Burton-Conner, for example, saw students giving up their rooms to allow for larger blocks of open rooms for Bexley students; many other dorms also offered up continuous blocks of rooms. In some dorms, this shuffling of rooms meant the return of crowded rooms that had previously been alleviated by the opening of Maseeh Hall. The size of the incoming freshman class, which had been increasing since Maseeh opened, will now remain the same as last year’s. While incoming class size is influenced by several factors, housing capacity is taken into account, according to Dean of Admissions Stu Schmill.
Regarding the cost of these new living assignments, Grimson responded to a financial concern voiced by Bexley students, promising that students moving to another dorm would not pay more than they did living in Bexley. A Bexley double cost $3,147 in 2012-2013, the cheapest available at the Institute as a Tier 3 dorm, like Random Hall and East Campus. Comparably, a double costs $3,777 in a Tier 1 dorm (Maseeh, Simmons, Next, and Baker) and $3,525 in a Tier 2 dorm. Students moving into a dining dorm, however, would still have to purchase a dining plan.
This concern was one of many voiced by Bexley residents in a 2,000-word letter to Chancellor Grimson and Dean for Student Life Chris Colombo. Many residents expressed a desire to remain together the following year and maintain the culture of Bexley. The letter, signed by over 70 residents, also brought up options for housing, asking for considerations including on-campus temporary housing or off-campus ILG-like housing. The group also requested an on-campus space for the group as a way to maintain the community’s visibility and presence on campus.
Shortly after the composition of the letter and the end of the Spring term, Bexley’s 50 entry was vandalized on the night of June 7. The incident left fixtures torn from the ceiling and walls, broken glass strewn across the floors, and even a human-sized hole in the wall. Because of the vandalism and resultant damage, no extensions or exceptions were granted to the senior move out date of June 8 — the day after Commencement.
In August, a Bexley advisory group, including student representatives from Bexley and DormCon, was established to evaluate the implications of the dormitory’s shutdown. The group received access to information including temporary housing cost projections, engineering reports of the damage to the building, and other information.
On Oct. 17, Chancellor Grimson announced to the Bexley and MIT community at large that the Division of Student Life planned to put forth a recommendation to demolish Bexley Hall due to the severity of its condition. He stated that in the spring their understanding of the building’s condition was such that “with renovation and repair, Bexley might be reopened within three years.” However, additional inspection of the property showed, according to Dean Colombo in an article by MIT News, that “saving the shell of Bexley is simply not practical.” Amster added in that article that the building, constructed over 100 years ago and purchased by MIT in 1939, “was not built according to the best practices in use at the time.”
“I would have a hard time recommending to leadership to make the investment in the facility to renew it,” Amster said in an interview with The Tech in October.
At the end of this email announcing this decision, Grimson cited a need to find a way to sustain the Bexley community “in name and in spirit,” responding to many students’ concerns for the preservation of the dormitory’s culture.
This concern was addressed in the form of the Pritchett Lounge on the second floor of Walker Memorial. The lounge, furnished with a pool table, TV, refrigerator, and microwave, is strictly a day-use space — no overnight sleeping allowed. Smoking and alcohol are also banned from the space. The lounge opened to students beginning on Aug. 26. It saw controversy in early November, when after a request for recycling bins in the space by a former GRT, the Campus Activities Complex (CAC) discovered what they deemed offensive posters taped to the walls. Unlike Bexley, the Pritchett Lounge came with, among others, the stipulation that the space was not to be altered without advanced approval. CAC Director Phil Walsh requested the immediate removal of the posters, which included written sexual themes and a squid that resembled male genitalia. Instead of removing the art, the former Bexley residents altered it to be less offensive. In one instance, “I jerk off” was edited to say “I twerk off.” The modifications were deemed acceptable, and the art allowed to stay, with Walsh adding that he was pleased that the space was active for the community.
“We are glad we get to use the Pritchett Dining space, though there are still some kinks in communication with the various administrators with regards to our use of the space,” Kristjan Eerik E. Kaseniit ’14, a member of the Bexley advisory group said to The Tech in October. “An important issue in keeping a community going, as I’m sure many living groups here know, is the influx of like-minded people. This is somewhat hard for Bexley, given that many of us are strong individualists. We are already seeing new faces at our shenanigans in Pritchett, which is great. However, this must be more seriously discussed in any future advisory groups regarding Bexley.”