East campus plans seem to ease worries about grad housing

MIT Museum to be moved to Kendall Square as part of gateway to campus

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The proposed plan for Kendall Square, which calls for new buildings for commercial, retail, and academic uses, as well as new graduate student housing.

CORRECTION TO THIS ARTICLE: An earlier version of this article misstated the provost's class year. He is Martin A. Schmidt PhD '88. The article also misstated the name of a Graduate Student Council committee. It is the Housing & Community Affairs committee, not the Housing Community Activities committee.

Some graduate student leaders say they are optimistic about big plans to revamp east campus now that MIT has signalled that it will make up for the beds that will be lost in Kendall Square after the Eastgate graduate family housing building is demolished.

The plans are more than a facelift. Adjacent to the graduate dorm to replace Eastgate will be a high-rise for commercial labs and offices. The Institute is also preparing to bring more ground-floor retail to the block and move the MIT Museum from Mass. Ave. to a parcel next to the Kendall T stop, the provost announced this summer. Architectural illustrations feature public plazas and lawns.

“I don’t even notice how terrible it is [anymore],” Professor J. Meejin Yoon said of the current collection of parking lots and buildings in the easternmost part of campus. She told professors during a faculty meeting presentation on Wednesday that the experience for visitors who emerge from the Kendall headhouse should not be “Where is MIT?” but “Welcome to MIT.”

Plans for an overhaul of MIT’s part of Kendall Square, in the works for at least four years, have seen their share of controversy. In the past, graduate students and faculty members have raised concerns over whether proposals from MIT and the MIT Investment Management Company provided enough graduate housing, given rising rents in the area.

But Francesco Bellei G, the vice president of the Graduate Student Council, said he thought the latest plans were “mindful of the needs of students.”

Provost Martin A. Schmidt PhD ’88 wrote in a July letter that new housing would be built before Eastgate was torn down. “We anticipate that the new housing will not only replace the Eastgate housing but add more capacity,” he said. Schmidt has also reaffirmed promises to look into housing opportunities on the west side of campus.

The Graduate Student Housing Working Group recommended in May that MIT provide 500 to 600 more beds for graduate students.

Sara Pixton, one of this year’s new Eastgate presidents, said that previous assurances had been vague, and that she was “relieved” at the news from the provost over the summer.

Clark C. Pixton G, the other president of Eastgate, said that he, Sara, and their twin daughters had few nearby housing options other than those provided by MIT.

“We’re very price sensitive,” he said. “We were looking for at least a two-bedroom place, and everything else would be at least $200 a month more expensive, and that’s the very low end of what else is in Cambridge.”

“We, for example, did not make it into the first- or second-round lotteries, and we had to wait until almost the end of the summer [to find out] that we had made it into Eastgate,” he added.

Clark Pixton said he was hopeful about the changes to east campus but wanted to make sure that graduate students’ voices were heard.

Marzyeh Ghassemi G, a former co-chair of the Graduate Student Council’s Housing & Community Affairs committee, also said she was optimistic about the process after the provost’s announcements, but wanted more detailed assurances, especially with regard to accommodations for families.

For Brian L. Spatocco G, the 2012-2013 president of the Graduate Student Council, the provost’s announcements are a vindication of years of work by students and faculty to pressure MIT to pay attention to graduate housing.

“I distinctly recall a meeting with a very high-level administrator [who said] ‘no, we’re not doing graduate housing,’” Spatocco said of his early efforts. “We were flabbergasted.” Later, graduate students would bring their concerns directly to Cambridge city officials.

“There’s a lot of things that are in this plan that wouldn’t be here had the students not spoken up,” he said.