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Recommendation made to demolish Bexley Hall

Decision based on building condition; process for next steps will include student input
Bexley Hall
Bexley Hall
Photo courtesy of MIT Housing

At a meeting today of an advisory group established to advise the MIT administration on Bexley Hall, a recommendation was made by the Department of Facilities in conjunction with the Division of Student Life for the eventual demolition of the vacated Bexley. If MIT’s senior leadership accepts this recommendation, MIT will seek the required relevant approvals and permits from the City of Cambridge.

Richard Amster, director of facilities, campus planning, engineering and construction, said, “We have evaluated the inspection reports and existing conditions of the building. In order to reuse the facility, various codes would require significant upgrades, including installation of an elevator, horizontal-circulation corridors on each floor, wider doorways to make many spaces accessible, and foundation and structural repairs throughout the building. In sum, the entire facility would need to be rebuilt.”

“Since April, Facilities has been working to understand the extent of damage to the structure and façade of the building,” said Costantino Colombo, dean for student life and chair of the Bexley group, which is composed of students and staff. “They have been candid about what their staff and consultants found, as well as about the options they investigated for renovating or replacing the building. Based on all the data, they found that saving the shell of Bexley is simply not practical.”

The advisory group—charged in late August with understanding Bexley’s structural issues and their implications—included student representatives Nicolas Brown ’14, Noga Feinberg ’15, Kristjan Eerik E. Kaseniit ’14, and Chris Sarabalis ’14 for the Bexley community, and DormCon president Eli Ross ’14 and VP for residence exploration Alina Kononov ’14.

Over the course of four meetings, the group was presented with information on the steps taken by Facilities to investigate temporary housing and its projected costs, as well as information on the complexities of renovating Bexley or replacing it in its current location. Facilities also shared the complete set of engineering reports and photos, which detailed the extensive damage inside Bexley’s walls.

In late April, MIT received two reports from consulting engineers detailing extensive damage to Bexley’s façade. Based on the reports and additional inspections by Facilities staff, Bexley was closed after Commencement in June. Residents were given the opportunity to enter a special housing lottery, and the majority of Bexley’s nearly 100 returning residents were moved to other MIT residence halls for the 2013-14 academic year.

The Bexley engineering review indicated that when the building was constructed as an apartment building just over 100 years ago, it was not built according to the best practices in use at the time. (The building was bought by MIT in 1939.) Amster said, “Some basic conventions of building a brick structure were not followed, which contributed to the structural damage.” This was compounded, he added, by the Institute’s inability to keep up with the maintenance of many of its buildings, a situation that is being remedied by the Accelerated Capital Renewal (ACR) Program. The ACR team is studying the existing condition of the campus and will prioritize and implement projects across campus in a systemized manner.

“We had a number of brick buildings that we believed needed inspection, and over the summer we completed the inspections and made the necessary repairs to those most in need,” Amster said. “In addition, as part of ACR, we are developing an inspection program that will check façade conditions on a regular cycle to identify and intervene as required to keep our facilities in a safe and satisfactory condition.”

A number of former Bexley residents were placed in East Campus and Senior House during the special lottery, and they were given exclusive use of the Pritchett Dining Hall on the second floor of nearby Walker Memorial. Residential Life continues to work with the Bexley community to make the space welcoming. Incoming freshmen also had the opportunity to indicate their interest in connecting with the Bexley community before arriving on campus in August.

The recommendation to demolish Bexley will now go to the Building Committee and the Executive Committee of the MIT Corporation, in advance of any Cambridge approval process. As these groups consider the recommendation, Chancellor Eric Grimson has asked that a new working group—to include students—be convened to look at undergraduate housing  at MIT, and in particular at the questions of how MIT can replace the housing that will be lost should Bexley be demolished, and how best to use the space Bexley occupies.

“The situation with Bexley is unexpected and the news is tough, especially for students and alumni who naturally grew attached to Bexley and the community it fostered,” Grimson said. “Should the committee’s recommendation be accepted, we will need to be deliberate in formulating our next steps with regard to both housing and the future use of that location. It is important that we find an effective way to replace the lost housing space, and that we find a way to sustain the Bexley community, both in name and in spirit.”

“The Institute has made great strides in recent years to provide welcoming, supportive living environments for our students, such as Maseeh and Simmons Halls,” Grimson added. “I know that we will be able to work together to create excellent new housing should that indeed be required. Any new building we construct will soon develop a culture of its own.”

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