Eastgate concerned about transformer

Residents of Eastgate were frustrated to learn earlier this month that MIT Housing had decided to install a transformer in their courtyard over IAP as part of the Kendall Square renovation project. To compensate, the courtyard will be remodeled to make up for lost space.

Eastgate residents held a meeting to discuss the issue Monday Nov 7.

Alison Crowley represented MITIMCo and provided more details about the existing plans. The transformer will be placed 60ft away from residences; the safety code only requires 10ft. In addition, the transformer will be surrounded by an 8ft wall both for safety and for the best quality soundproofing possible, Crowley said.

However, these additional measures did not entirely satisfy some residents. Marzyeh Ghassemi, a PhD candidate at CSAIL protested, “You can’t put it in the building because it needs a 3 hour fire-proof vault but you can put it in our courtyard … and our kids can be out there? Do you think that that is a reasonable decision?”

Ghassemi previously emailed the dorm’s discussion list encouraging residents to reach out to The Tech to air their grievances, to email Chancellor Barnhart and to sign a petition addressed to the Chancellor and President Reif protesting the installation.

Not all residents shared Ghassemi’s safety concerns. “It is safer to stand next to that transformer than it is to stand on the sidewalk, next to traffic,” claimed an attendee. “That’s just statistics.”

Another resident explained that a lot of the distrust came from the installation of the transformer being news to them, explaining that they felt “railroaded” by this decision. Crowley, on the other hand, was under the impression that the decision had been emailed to the community multiple times.

In a subsequent interview with The Tech, Dennis Collins, director of Residential Life for Capital Renewal, blamed this miscommunication on a mailing list confusion: the mailing list that residents most commonly use redirects, or “bounces,” messages from non-resident email addresses to a moderator’s list. This prompted various officials involved in the decision to send emails to a different, lesser read list.

To many residents this fit into a larger pattern of broken promises and miscommunications from MIT Housing. Residents and administrators both acknowledged previous issues surrounding the now-cancelled installation of air conditioning in the penthouse, persistent problems with the elevators, and a disappointing renovation of the laundry room.

Another resident at the meeting contended that after living in Eastgate for six years, “the communication between Housing and our residents is absolutely horrendous, the track record is very very bad. What has happened with this issue has happened over and over again: we have not been included in any conversation until decisions have been made.”

In an email to The Tech, Jennifer Marquart, a former resident, offered a different perspective on residents’ concerns. Since demand to live in Eastgate is high, housing is assigned through a lottery, forcing Marquart and her husband to move off campus after the summer.

She explained that they currently pay a higher rent, pay their own utilities and how they were not told about construction happening in their building. “I didn't realize how especially nice on-campus living was (even despite some annoyances about elevators and washing machines being not emptied) while I was on campus,” she wrote.

Peter Cummings, executive director for administration in the Division of Student Life, attended the meeting at the direct request of Director of Student Life Suzy Nelson. After the meeting, Cummings described the communication issues as “distressing” and attributed this to a combination of the age of the building, which was built in the 1960s, and the lack of strong advocacy for the building.

“Older buildings need a lot more TLC,” he said, “and we — housing — should give more emphasis to that than we have in the past where we have treated them all the same.” (TLC stands for “tender love and care.”)

Cummings added that “for a long time, graduate communities were able to function by themselves.” Asked to compare with what would happen in commercial apartments, Cummings speculated that “they would not be getting this level of give and take,” before adding that DSL has a duty to Eastgate residents due to their status as MIT students.

Cummings hoped MIT students would get invited in these conversations earlier: “they love to solve problems… When we got to that point in the conversation, that was great! It was brilliant!”

The installation of the transformer near Eastgate will substitute for the loss of another transformer a few buildings away.

In order to make up the lost space, MIT Investment Management Company, the building’s owner, is also renovating the courtyard with input from a community committee in what they call “a multiple hundreds of thousands of dollars improvement to the site.”

The playground redesign pushes the fence line back and is estimated to cancel out the space loss. The new design will focus on improving the current experience of residents who use the space for barbecues and movie nights, and will be able to accommodate multiple parties at a time.