It's back-to-school time for Steve and Lori Lerman. Twenty-seven years after moving out of married student housing, the couple moved back--to the housemaster's suite of the new graduate dormitory at 224 Albany St.
Their return to Cambridge follows 23 years in Winchester, during which time they raised three children, the youngest now in college.
"We began to think seriously about moving out of the suburbs anyway, and the opportunity to live and work with students fascinated us," said Professor Lerman, director of the Center for Educational Computing Initiatives and the Class of 1922 Distinguished Professor. "The timing of the dorm's opening coincided with the end of my term as chair of the faculty and I wanted some way to continue being involved with student life."
Their new apartment is on the south side of the fourth floor and looks out over the MIT playing fields and running track. The roomy four-bedroom unit has new hardwood floors, plenty of light, a small terrace and three stainless-steel refrigerators to hold food for entertaining graduate students who live in the dorm--part of the housemasters' role.
"While everything isn't yet entirely completed in the apartment, it is very habitable," said Lerman. "Once all our boxes are unpacked and all the furniture is in place, it is going to be--in my humble opinion--spectacular."
The Lermans have moved into the first new graduate housing at MIT since Edgerton House opened at 143 Albany St. in December 1990. The new dorm is about a block away from Edgerton House, and one block over from the new graduate student dormitory being built at Sydney and Pacific streets. (That dorm, targeted for completion in August 2002, will house 600-700 additional graduate students.)
The dorm at 224 Albany St. is actually a converted warehouse built in 1908, and is already known affectionately as the "warehouse." The building will house 120 graduate students in single rooms, each with private bath and kitchen.
MIT bought the facility from the Air Force in 1958, using it as the home for its Cambridge Reseach Laboratory and the Instrumentation Lab (now Draper Laboratory). In recent years, it was used for storage and also housed the Equipment Exchange.
Conversion of the 90,000-square-foot building began about a year ago and cost $26 million. Renovations were expected to be completed in early August but took longer than anticipated, with the result that students and the Lermans, who moved out of their Winchester home on August 11, were housed at the University Park Hotel for a few days.
Opening day was scheduled for Aug. 16, but the building was not opened for occupancy until Aug. 22. The common areas on the ground floor, including reception, were still not ready, but a makeshift reception table was set up outside the building near the loading dock on the east side. Renovations and final touches to student rooms are expected to be finished by the end of this month. Work on the common areas will end about Sept. 15. ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½
Graduate students will live in studio apartments with a small sleeping section separated from the combination kitchen/living/study area. The approximately 300-square-foot rooms have high ceilings, exposed brick on the back walls, and new hardwood floors and cabinets. The units come furnished with a bed, dresser, desk and chair, small couch, stove, built-in microwave and an under-the-counter refrigerator. Two wall jacks for computer and phone have been installed under the desk, another near the bed.
Kwan Chan, an architecture graduate student from Portland, Ore., who stayed in the University Park Hotel the first two nights after his arrival, was pleasantly surprised when he finally saw his new home.
"I was expecting worse. I thought I'd be living in a long trailer apartment. I was also expecting to share a bathroom. This is a lot nicer--a lot nicer," said Chan, who will pay $800 a month for the unit, utilities included.
The building also has eight approximately 400-square-feet corner efficiency apartments for residential assistants--graduate students who have been at MIT long enough to help the new students adjust. Each assistant has been assigned to mentor 15 new residents.
Sanjit Sethi, a graduate student in architecture, moved to his corner apartment from Edgerton House. He volunteered for the RA job because he thought he could help. "I remember my first-year experience as being pretty bewildering. And these students will be living in efficiencies, which gets a little bit isolating--no roommates, not living in a quad," he said. "So I volunteered to be a resource or fallback person for them."
For their part, the Lermans plan to hold weekly coffees and other social events to help get the students out of their rooms. "In a building like this where each unit is self-contained, our job as housemasters is to make sure the students come up for air," said Lori Lerman.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on August 29, 2001.