Demolition of Bexley awaits Corp. approval

Decision expected by June, official says; Students allege they were misled during 2013’s Bexley Advisory Group meetings

6627 bexley
Bexley Hall was closed at the end of the Spring 2013 semester.
Vanessa Trevino—The Tech

Four months after the Department of Facilities and the Division of Student Life recommended the demolition of the dormitory, the future of Bexley Hall and 50 Massachusetts Ave. has yet to be determined.

For the demolition to occur, both the Building Committee and the Executive Committee of the MIT Corporation must approve the decision. Following this, Facilities needs the approval of the City of Cambridge.

The two committees will make their decisions “by the end of spring semester,” said Richard Amster, director of Facilities, in an interview with The Tech. He also said that it is still unclear when Cambridge will give MIT the go-ahead if the proposal is indeed approved.

In making the decision, the Building Committee will consider factors such as the difficulties in repairing the building, impacts on student housing, and costs, according to Israel Ruiz SM ’01, chairman of the Building Committee. Ruiz added that when the time comes, plans for future housing will be guided by MIT 2030, a framework designed to make the best use of the property available to MIT and that is responsible for the ongoing East Campus/Kendall Gateway design project.

The dates of the proposed demolition of Bexley Hall and what would be built in its place remain unknown. In an email to The Tech, former Chancellor Eric Grimson PhD ’80 said that “[t]he current status of the Bexley situation is that we are completing the stages required to get MIT and City of Cambridge approval to bring down the building. We unfortunately can’t really move forward with next steps until that is completed.”

He also mentioned that a committee, comprised of students and others, would be established to examine all options to restore lost housing. Chancellor Cynthia Barnhart PhD ’88 will assume the responsibility of coordinating the activities of the group. The outlined duties of this new group are similar to those of the Bexley Advisory Group organized last summer by Facilities, Grimson, and Constantino Colombo, the dean for student life.

The Bexley Advisory Group was assembled to provide counsel on what would be done given the structural problems in Bexley Hall. Its main charge was to provide feedback to the Institute about the advantages and disadvantages of various options for restoring the beds lost as a result of Bexley’s closing.

It also had the specific task of, among other things, recommending criteria for the design and programming of a possible replacement and advising the Institute on appropriate next steps if renovating Bexley would not be feasible.

But according to student members of the group, neither of these topics was discussed at the meetings, nor were they consulted on the recommendation made by Facilities to demolish the dorm.

“The group had no role in deciding the recommendation that Bexley should be demolished,” wrote Kristjan E. Kaseniit ’14 in an email to The Tech. “In fact, this decision was made outside the group, roughly a month before that last meeting, between Dean Colombo, Facilities, Chancellor Grimson, and possibly others. This was evident from a draft of a press release prematurely (accidentally) shared with the rest of the Advisory Group. At the final meeting of the Advisory Group we were presented with the press release, which turned out to contain gross mistakes, most prominently that we, the whole group, were presented with cost analyses of various options for Bexley. We asked whether we could be given these analyses or if the statement could be removed, but neither request was granted.”

Although the press release was amended accordingly sometime after being published, a previous version had claimed that “[t]he group was presented with information on the steps taken by Facilities to investigate temporary housing, and the projected costs and complexities of renovating Bexley or replacing it in its current location.” Kaseniit had said these specific costs were not discussed with the group.

Three other members of the Advisory Group, Noga Feinberg ’15, Christopher J. Sarabalis ’14, and Nicolas M. Brown ’14, agreed that the meetings consisted of presentations on the structural problems of Bexley, rather than discussions concerning how the administration and the MIT community would face the challenge of restoring or replacing the dorm.

Additionally, the student members said that the presentations only vaguely concluded that it would cost roughly the same to renovate Bexley as it would to build another dorm of similar size, although the costs estimated were uncertain since more structural problems might be revealed if Bexley were to be restored.

Colombo, who chaired the Bexley Advisory Group, wrote in an email that “[t]he recommendation to demolish the building was made to the Institute’s senior leadership based on information from Facilities’ extensive investigations of the building.” However, he assured that the student members were very helpful in finalizing some issues related to Bexley.

Many of Bexley’s former residents hope that their dorm’s culture will continue to thrive, whether it will do so in a renovated Bexley or in a replacement dorm. In an email to The Tech, Sarabalis said, “If I had to add anything it would be this: It upsets me when I meet freshmen who will never know how well they would have fit in and been both challenged and supported by the Bexley community.”

Anonymous almost 9 years ago

It baffles me that the world's top engineering institution allowed one of its own buildings and communities to crumble.

Anonymous almost 9 years ago

I suspect that it was rather on purpose.