Committee to plan for new varsity weight room in the fall, gymnastics facility will stay as is in meantime

DAPER overturns earlier decision to vacate the gymnastics facility by June 30 and transform it into a new varsity weight room

Head of DAPER Julie Soriero announced in a conference call to members of the gymnastics team, cheer team, and their alumni May 30 that a committee will be formed to plan for the location of a new weight room for varsity athletes, and consequently, the future of the DAPER gymnastics facility in the DuPont Athletic Center.

Soriero’s announcement overturned DAPER’s earlier decision to vacate the gymnastics facility by June 30 and transform it into a new varsity weight room.

The committee will be formed by early August, charged by early September, and conclude their work by the end of the fall semester, in time for Soriero’s retirement.

The approximately 6,900-square-foot gymnastics facility is regularly used by the 30-member MIT club gymnastics team, the 15-member MIT club cheer team, and other groups in the Cambridge community, including Cambridge Community Gymnastics, Special Olympics, the Simmons College gymnastics team, and the Boston University gymnastics team, according to a document compiled by the gymnastics team and forwarded to The Tech by Sandra Walter ’20, gymnastics team publicity chair.

The gymnastics facility is also used occasionally by the MIT varsity diving and pole vaulting teams, according to the document. The varsity athletes currently use an approximately 2,600-square-foot weight room, according to an email sent by Soriero to varsity coaches and forwarded to The Tech by Walter.

While the committee is working, the gymnastics facility will maintain the same hours, and teams will be able to practice as usual. The facility will also maintain its contractual obligations to other groups such as Cambridge Community Gymnastics, Soriero said.

The varsity athletes will continue using their current weight room for this time period, according to a statement from Soriero emailed to The Tech by Ken Johnson, DAPER director of communications, promotions, and marketing.

The committee will likely include DAPER staff and advisory board members, students, and alumni, but the exact composition of the committee has yet to be determined, Soriero said in the conference call. Soriero, along with Chancellor Cynthia Barnhart PhD ’88 and Vice President and Dean for Student Life Suzy Nelson, will “populate the committee, develop the charge, and review the committee’s recommendations when they are ready,” wrote Matthew Bauer, senior director of communications for the Division of Student Life, in an email to The Tech.

Soriero emphasized during the call that the committee would prioritize the affected students’ needs over those of the broader community.

The original plan to transform the gymnastics space into a new varsity weight room was announced by Soriero at private meetings with the gymnastics and cheer teams May 16, and then announced to varsity coaches the following day, Walter said in an interview with The Tech. Soriero also informed Barnhart and Nelson of this plan, wrote Bauer.

At these private meetings, Soriero explained that a visiting committee had informed DAPER of the need to form short, medium, and long-term goals, gymnastics women’s team president Remi Godinez ’20 said in an interview with The Tech.

As a medium-term goal, DAPER chose to create a new 5,000-6,000-square-foot varsity weight room, and believed that the gymnastics facility was a good fit as it was an “underutilized space,” Godinez said. DAPER, in discussion with the head of club sports, tracked that there were about 13 people per practice, compared to the 70 athletes that use the varsity weight room each day, according to Godinez.

DAPER also looked at two overhangs in DuPont, before determining that the square footage was too small, as well as the hobby shop — a wood and metal makerspace in the same building as DuPont — before determining that it would not be feasible to relocate it, according to Soriero in the conference call. There was no committee formed prior to the original decision.

The gymnastics and cheer teams were disappointed by DAPER’s announcement at the meeting and the lack of prior warning, according to Godinez and Asia Hypsher ’20 and Catherine Johnson ’22, co-captains of the cheer team. They had received no prior communication, Walter said, other than an email from Jamie Drahos, manager of club sports, intramurals, and sports camps, that requested a meeting to “discuss future planning” and a follow-up email explaining that the meeting would be about “equipment and facilities usage.” Both emails were sent to Godinez and forwarded to The Tech by Walter.

Godinez said that she felt that DAPER “dropped the bomb” on the team at the meeting. Catherine Johnson said in an interview with The Tech that the cheer team was “upset” and “angry” at the unexpected announcement.

The gymnastics team, when transitioning from varsity to club about ten years ago, had made a verbal agreement with DAPER that they would be able to keep the space; according to Walter, Soriero said at the meeting that this agreement was not meant to be indefinite.

Walter also said the timing of the announcement — four days before finals — was very inconvenient. Catherine Johnson said that she did not understand why the discussion did not begin earlier, such as in March.

Walter, Hypsher, and Catherine Johnson also said in interviews with The Tech that they believed that DAPER failed to realize the extent of the impact on their teams and the difficulty of finding alternate options. Soriero said that the gymnastics team could also practice off campus, but Walter said that the gymnastics team has found no facility within a 45-minute drive that would meet the team’s needs, and that such a commute time would severely reduce the gymnastics team’s numbers.

Soriero offered to the cheer team hard mats on the DuPont court, but Catherine Johnson said that the team already has difficulty scheduling the court for just one practice a week, compared to their usual three, and they can be removed from the space by varsity teams at any time. Furthermore, without the spring floor in the gymnastics facility, the cheer team would not be able to practice tumbling, which is integral to competing, Hypsher said.

The original decision also posed problems with the selling of equipment. Former gymnastics men’s team president Kevin Foley ’19 said in an interview with The Tech that much of the equipment in the gym has been funded by alumni, including a new floor, recently purchased for $10,000. The team also purchased a new $5,000 mat a month-and-a-half prior to the announcement, gymnastics team member James Koppel G said in an interview with The Tech.

Walter said that DAPER planned to sell the equipment and put the money in a fund, run by DAPER, for the gymnastics team. However, gymnastics equipment depreciates very quickly, and the money would ultimately be controlled by DAPER, Walter said. According to Hypsher, Soriero said the cheer team could potentially keep some of the equipment, depending on the gymnastics team’s course of action.

Soriero declined to comment on the original decision. In a statement forwarded by Ken Johnson May 21, she wrote, “Please tell the Tech that I will talk to them when they start to cover the many positive and successful things done by DAPER and the students — both club and varsity — that represent MIT so well in their activities and competitions.”

After Soriero’s initial meetings with the gymnastics and cheer teams, alumni from both the gymnastics and cheer teams reached out to Soriero, as well as President L. Rafael Reif. Ninety-six gymnastics team alumni and around 10 cheer team alumni emailed in support, according to Godinez and Catherine Johnson. A petition was also started by Cambridge Community Gymnastics, which has reached 5,795 signatures at press time.

The new decision was made after Soriero spoke to an individual interested in opening a new gymnastics facility in Cambridge. Soriero, Barnhart, and Nelson decided to extend the timeline so that “the individual can perform their due diligence on the private facility option” and a committee could look at alternative solutions, Bauer wrote. Soriero declined to provide more information about the individual to protect their privacy.

The gymnastics team is pleased with the new decision. “We are very thankful to report that DAPER has heard our concerns and is willing to work with us over the next few months to find a solution that allows MIT Gymnastics, MIT Cheer, and Varsity sports the opportunity to thrive,” the team wrote in a statement emailed to The Tech by Godinez.

Catherine Johnson, however, said that she felt concerned that the decision was merely “checking a box and rolling the ball to December.” She said that she was also concerned that the interest of varsity teams would be favored over those who currently used the gymnastics facility. She said that she hoped to serve on the committee and her ideal solution would “leave the gymnastics room untouched.”

The gymnastics team holds two-and-a-half hour practices six times a week at the facility. Most members come in three to four times per week, according to a document the team compiled and Walter forwarded to The Tech. The team also holds an introductory gymnastics class for members of the MIT community in the fall.

The cheer team practices three times per week at the facility in the fall, and four times per week in the spring, according to the document.

Cambridge Community Gymnastics holds two hour practices six times a week at the facility. They offer adult gymnastics classes and open gym time to those of all ages. Simmons College gymnastics practices at the facility four times each week. Special Olympics and Boston University gymnastics practice at the facility one time each week. Varsity pole vaulting practices at the facility about ten times each year.

Nominations for the committee can be sent to Soriero’s assistant Jessica Duff at