Stratton Student Center to undergo renovations
The renovations reflect a vision of the student center that emphasizes wellbeing
The Stratton Student Center is set to undergo renovations as soon as Spring 2023; the renovations aim to transform the building into a more welcoming space for students.
The center, built in 1968, has not undergone a significant renovation since 1988, when the atrium stairs at the center of the building were added.
Changes include refreshing the physical space inside and outside the building, launching the Wellbeing Lab, updating dining options, and upgrading the existing infrastructure. The renovations have been approved for design by the executive committee of the MIT Corporation, and are now in the conceptual design phase; students are called to keep an eye out for engagement opportunities and provide input.
Chancellor Melissa Nobles wrote in an email to The Tech that “This project is all about putting MIT’s students at the center of our student center. We want to create welcoming interior and exterior spaces that help them come together — whether that means to relax and recharge, study, hang out with friends, or take part in extracurriculars.”
Efforts to renovate the student center date back to 2017, with proposals from both the Committee on Student Life and the Division of Student Life Visiting Committee, which was then supported by the Undergraduate Association. The following year, the student center design palette was created with input from student and staff; this input was incorporated in the fifth floor Athena lounge renovations.
Vice Chancellor and Dean for Student Life Suzy Nelson said in an interview with The Tech that “the goal of the upcoming renovations is to apply this design palette to four floors of the student center, as well as to create a space that caters to students’ needs. Initial renderings of the space see more couches, more natural lighting, more open space, more outlets, and more plants.”
The proposed transformation starts from the outside, with an emphasis on accessibility. The Beech Court and areas adjacent to the building will also be updated to encourage more open-air gatherings. Entering the building, the first floor aims to provide a welcoming first impression of the building; the CopyTech area would be demolished and the stairwell area reconfigured. The Coffeehouse lounge will be replaced by the Wellbeing Lab. The fourth floor will undergo major changes, including the introduction of two new dance and movement studios with sprung hardwood floors; a meeting room used by the Undergraduate Association will be repurposed to serve as a student lounge, event space, and connecting space to link the two dance studios.
The Wellbeing Lab
The Wellbeing Lab will be overseen by the recently launched Office of Student Wellbeing, and will contain programming from the Department of Athletics, Physical Education, and Recreation and student groups like MedLinks, PLEASURE, Residential Peer Mentors, Wellbeing Ambassadors, and Resources for Easing Friction and Stress to encourage student wellness.
According to Nobles, “The Wellbeing Lab will also serve as the anchor and heart of our wellbeing activities. The Lab is an important way we are centralizing and shining a spotlight on all of the excellent educational and support offerings we have to help students prioritize their wellbeing.”
In response to potential concerns about the loss of the Coffeehouse lounge, Senior Associate Dean of Student Support and Wellbeing David Randall said in a statement to The Tech that “the goal [of the renovations] is not to take anything away”.
Following the launch of new food vendors in the student center in Fall 2021, dining in the first floor is also expected to undergo changes to meet the vision of the student center as a space for wellbeing. According to a document shared by MIT Dining Director Mark Hayes, the dining advisory group, which is composed of members of staff and students, have started searching for vendors that:
Offer affordable and nutritious menu options and flexibility to respond to changing food needs,
Have strong connections to local producers, farms, and fishing community,
Operate at hours that meet the needs of the MIT campus,
Support MIT’s commitment to being a leader in sustainability.
Meet needs of students with allergen and food preferences (ethnic, vegan, vegetarian, Halal),
Will invest in their operations for the long term through continual operational upgrades, donations, and cooking classes.
They are also consciously considering minority and women owned businesses to support social justice. Hayes noted that though the dining advisory group’s selection framework includes the aforementioned considerations, their options and decisions are ultimately subject to vendor interest.
According to Hayes, students who have suggestions for food vendors should email email@example.com.
In an email to The Tech, Office of Campus Planning Senior Campus Planner Amy Kaiser shared that the infrastructure changes will include replacing air handling units that are original to the building, providing a new IT room, updating the fire alarm system, and improving interior and exterior accessibility. The project will improve accessibility throughout the building, from the first-floor entry ramps to the upper-level restrooms. The team is also exploring an accessibility upgrade that would enable students to use the exterior steps and deck as reservable spaces for campus activities.
The design and construction teams seek to incorporate sustainable solutions throughout the renovation, and the project intends to achieve LEED v4 Silver certification. The design proposes introducing natural materials throughout the building, including green living walls and planters.
The Division of Student Life, in collaboration with the Undergraduate Association and Graduate Student Council have already started collecting student feedback through the formation of student working groups and feedback sessions, the latest of which happened May 13.
In an interview with The Tech, UA President and Vice President Danielle Geathers ’22 and YuJing Chen ’22 advised students to pay attention to all the different engagement opportunities. Students can follow the updates to the renovations and get involved at https://studentlife.mit.edu/about/new-vision-student-center.