5. Capital Expenditures

In this section, we present recommendations for $273.5 million in capital projects. We provide a timetable for completing these projects, by dividing them into three phases: projects that should be completed by the summer of 2001, projects that should be completed by the summer of 2004, and projects that should be completed by the summer of 2009. In making these recommendations, we hope to address the first two challenges identified in Principles for the MIT Residential System:

None of the following recommendations are currently in MIT's Capital Plan. [2] Nonetheless, the great majority of our recommendations are criticial if the objectives of the residence system and the educational mission of MIT are to be carried out -- and the remainder are very important. The old model of a narrow technical education has lost the appeal it once had, due both to changes in the employment market and to changes in society.

MIT is not the only institution to respond to the onset of the Information Age. Our non-technical peer institutions are quickly building up and endowing their science and technology curricula for future success. Students, meanwhile, increasingly need a broad education, including informal learning, which MIT has only started to recognize as important, and which our non-technical peer institutions currently provide much better than we do. MIT also faces a threat fro Internet-based universities, which promise to provide excellent academic materials at a fraction of the cost of a residential university. MIT's future thus depends in no small part on the quality of our community education, which depends in turn upon the residential system.

In short, these capital outlays are critical to MIT's continuing status as a first-tier institution. MIT has been a second-tier institution before, and we can be a second-tier institution again. Today, MIT is a first-tier institution with a first-tier educational mission. This educational mission--the Educational Triad--requires a first-rate residential system.

We recognize that MIT will have difficulties financing our recommended projects through traditional debt service, because the projects on the Capital Plan reach MIT's debt ceiling. [3] Nonetheless, we believe that completion of these projects is quite feasible. The proposed plan has a ten-year time horizon, and the majority of the projects are back-loaded. Consequently, MIT could fund the plan by allocating $27.5 million per year, which is approximately 3% of MIT's annual budget. We present recommendations to help fund the capital recommendations at the end of the section.

Other institutions have committed substantial capital to their residence system. The University of Pennsylvania's recently concluded a residential redesign process. In 1998, the university announced that it would move to a residential college system that would house a greater percentage of its student body. To enable this monumental change, the university pledged greater staff support and a commitment to an enhanced residential dining program. The university will add 870 on-campus beds, and will renovate its existing on-campus housing. The university also committed $300 million over 10 years to its Housing and Dining Renewal Project. [4]

Cornell University's 1997 Residential Initiative responded to a decision to move all freshmen to its North Campus. To enable this initiative, the university is constructing two residence halls with a total of 558 beds, creating more community space by building a Community Center, renovations of campus dining facilities, and providing funds for Fraternity and Sorority facility improvements. This initiative will cost at least $200 million. [5]

5.1 Principles for Capital Expenditures

To develop recommendations for capital projects, we considered projects that would help the Institute meet the following goals:

Satisfying these goals is critical if the objectives of the residence system are to be achieved. The capital projects relate most directly the goal of Provision of Housing, but provide vital support for the Home and Community objectives, as well. Further, all of these goals have been identified in many student life reports, including the Report of the Task Force on Student Life and Learning, Principles, and the Institute Dining Review Final Report. They have been accepted as Institute goals. [6]

These principles imply certain statements about the residence system.

The committee recognizes that the following capital plan is preliminary. The actual capital plan used to alleviate the Institute's housing problems should include substantial social research and decision analysis to identify exactly which projects will best meet housing needs at minimum cost and risk. Nonetheless, we believe that the following plan is an excellent first-order estimate of how much MIT will have to spend to bring its housing system to the elite level that is its avowed objective. We have used the common "placeholder" technique: for each need, we recommend the corresponding projects that have been most discussed, most researched, and in some cases committed to.

The following subsections explain each project and its rationale in some detail. The numbers for the cost estimates of these projects are taken from our own work and various Institute sources, most notably "Renewing the Foundation of MIT," the February 1998 facilities audit conducted by RLSLP and the Planning Office. "Renewing" also contains some of the renovation recommendations listed here. We have followed their implementation timetable (in most cases) in placing their recommendations into the three phases.

In brief, the following table compares the accepted needs to their corresponding projects:
All undergraduates should be able to live in the MIT housing system.
  • Construct a second undergraduate / "flex" dormitory. ($40 MM)
  • Provide funds to retain FSILG beds within the housing system. ($13.7 MM)
  • Provide renovation and transition funds to FSILG's. ($16.3 MM)
50% of graduate students should be part of the MIT residence system.
  • Construct two new graduate residence halls over the next ten years. ($100 MM)
  • The "flex" dormitory may include some housing for graduate students to support mixed communities. (above)
MIT housing must be safe, well-maintained, and affordable.
  • Carry out the unfunded portions of the Housing Renovations and Renewal Plan. ($24.5 MM)
  • Renovate East Campus. ($25.5 MM)
  • Provide renovation funds to FSILG's. ($10 MM -- counted above)
The residence system should provide the facilities and support needed for community interaction.
  • Renovate residence halls to reopen dining halls and create program space. ($15 MM)
  • Provide regular maintenance to Stratton Center and Walker Memorial. ($7.5 MM)
  • Renovate Walker Memorial ($31 MM).
  • Provide direct funding and new staff support for residence activities. (To be determined)
The FSILG system should be vibrant and diverse.
  • Provide renovation and transition support to FSILG's. ($16.3 MM, above)

The total budget request above is $273.5 million dollars, not counting ongoing staffing and programming support for the residence system.

Again, the committee recognizes that the above capital list is not a final list, and is not a substitute for a detailed capital plan. In addition, certain synergies in the above projects can be realized. For example, funds to retain FSILG beds that are moved to the flexible dormitory should not overlap; similarly, if the flexible dormitory includes a percentage of graduate students, the size of the second graduate dormitory could be reduced. (Attaining more than $15 million in savings from these synergies seems unlikely, however.) The projects themselves are subject to variation.

Nonetheless, the projects on this plan are highly representative of any set of projects that would address the needs of the Institute's residence system. Therefore, it is almost certain that improving the residence system will cost at least $200 million, and highly likely that it will cost at least $250 million. The committee recognizes that this is a substantial outlay, but also recognizes that the Institute has no choice but to provide this level of funding if it is to keep its promises regarding the Residence System.

The committee believes that providing this level of support will be difficult, but will certainly be feasible. We discuss funding and fund-raising issues in the last subsection of this section.

5.2 Projects with Completion Dates in Summer 2001

Renovation to dormitories to re-open dining halls and create program space ($15 million)

These expenditures will allow MIT to carry out large portions of the "Community" recommendations in the Task Force on Student Life and Learning, the Institute Dining Review Final Report, and Principle B3 of the Principles, "Build Supportive Communities". The Task Force has recommended that housing and dining facilities need to foster community involvement, which will require renovations (at the very least, to reopen dining facilities). The Institute Dining Review described in detail the critical value of residential dining as the result of research which included discussion with hundreds of students and many faculty and staff, including housemasters. The Principles also called for an improved residential dining program, and also pointed out the importance of common space to build community. [8]

We emphasize the need to implement the residential dining recommendations of the Institute Dining Review. With the exceptions of the hiring of a Dining Director, improvements to the card system, and pilot projects that use dining spaces as-is, MIT has delayed implementation of the Institute Dining Review for various organizational and monetary reasons.

This allocation will allow proper use of residential dining halls, which is an integral part of the residence system. Code considerations and general neglect mean that renovation of the McCormick kitchen will approach $5 million alone (according to studies done by request of the Dining Implementation Team), and renovations of Burton-Conner's and MacGregor's dining spaces (as enhanced program space or as dining) also carry significant price tags.

Funds to renovate and support FSILGs, and buy bed spaces if necessary ($30 million)

MIT has recognized that FSILGs are a vital part of the residence system, and must remain so in the future. These critical recommendations will help ensure the vitality of the FSILG system, as well as carry out the principle that MIT must maintain spaces currently within the residence system.

The first part of this fund would be used to renovate FSILGs. Much as many of the residence halls have suffered from deferred maintenance, many of the FSILGs need substantial work. Providing funds to renovate FSILGs would have three very important benefits. First, these funds would improve the quality of life for FSILG residents. Second, these funds would help ensure that FSILGs remain competitive as housing options for rising sophmores, other upperclass students, and graduate students. Finally these funds would help rebuild the ties between MIT and the FSILGs, which have been severely strained by the decision to house freshmen in residence halls beginning in 2001.

The Alumni Interfraternity Council recently commissioned a facilities audit of all the FSILGs, which estimated that the houses needed $8.2 million worth of renovation work. [9] Given this estimate, we belive that approximately $10 million should be earmarked for renovation grants, presumably done through the Independent Residence Development Fund (IRDF).

The second part of the fund would be used to rent or purchase housing spaces from FSILG's, as necessary. We believe that there are three situations where such support will be invaluable.

Between these three demands, the committee (in conjunction with the IFC) believes that a safe estimate of the number of houses that may require supporting would be seven (assuming the transition funding for FSILG's is provided). Assuming a real estate value of $2 million per house, $14 million should be reserved for space purchases. Hopefully, with the exception of purchasing new houses, little of this allocation will have to be used.

Finally, the third part of the fund would provide transition support for FSILG's. Budgeted for approximately $6 million, this support is discussed in more detail in Section 8.

Renovations to Stratton Center and Walker Memorial ($5.5 million)

While Stratton Center and Walker Memorial are not technically a part of the residence system, they provide vital support to it. They provide dining facilities for students when dining facilities cannot be open; indeed, one can argue that Walker Memorial is the "dining hall" for residents on the east side of campus. They also provide facilities for residents to socialize during the day, and provide vital community spaces that will be needed to carry out our Community Involvement recommendations (Section 4). This particular allocation would carry out some much-needed maintenance on the two buildings.

Total by summer of 2001: $50.5 million

5.3 Projects with Completion Dates of Summer 2004

Construction of a 500-bed Graduate Residence ($50 million)

MIT has promised a new residence hall for its graduate student community since before the end of rent control; indeed, official Institute statements in the Fall of 1998 promised the dormitory would be completed by 2002. Unfortunately, MIT has revoked this pledge, as the Capital Plan does not include budgeting for a new graduate dormitory.

The construction of new graduate housing is one of the most pressing needs in this proposal. Doing so is critical to carry out our Provision of Housing objective, especially given the current housing situation. The end of rent control made graduate student life much more difficult, as rents in some apartments -- including some owned by MIT -- have quadrupled. Beyond rent control, Boston's recent economic boom has led to rental shortages and much higher rents in general, as has been oft reported in all major Boston publications. The upshot of the rental shortage is that, unless significant measures to house graduate students are taken, MIT may not be able to fulfill its obligation to ensure that graduate students can find safe, clean, and affordable housing, which means that many of the "best and brightest" graduate students will be forced to attend other universities.

A new graduate hall (with 500 beds, at $100,000 per bed) will alleviate both graduate students' concerns about finding affordable housing and the pressure graduate students exert on the Cambridge housing market, an important issue to the Cambridge City Council. The extra capacity will increase the percentage of graduate students housed on-campus from 29% to 38%, in partial fulfillment of the 50% target.

Second new undergraduate / "flex" dormitory ($40 million)

Even before the decision to house freshmen in residence halls was announced, the need for a new undergraduate residence hall has been widely known. The new hall would alleviate overcrowding that has sometimes reached damaging levels in recent years. It would also provide much needed flexibility to deal with demographic shifts, ideas for residential experiments, the eventual need to take Random Hall off-line, and so on.

The decision to house freshmen in residence halls makes the need for a new undergraduate dormitory much more pressing, as it dramatically decreases the flexibility of the current housing system. The following table shows the housing shortages that will result if not enough students pledge FSILG's. It uses the following assumptions: total undergraduate population is 4400, with class sizes of 1100 (including transfer students); about 4% of undergraduates will continue to choose to live outside the system; and the total number of residence hall spaces is 3,036 (2916 regular spaces, plus 120 "regular" crowds). [10]

Percentage of each
class pledging FSILG's
Shortage of
system spaces

Obviously, maintaining the viability of FSILG's is important, and not just for the sake of preventing housing shortages. The renovation fund for FSILG's, as well as the support discussed in Section 7, will, hopefully, prevent serious shortages. Nonetheless, it is clear that more flexibility is needed: even at current pledging levels of around 31%, the system would be short 280 beds. We believe that forcing students out of the system is not an option for ethical and political reasons -- it would violate the objectives for the housing system and MIT's educational mission, and would seriously disrupt MIT's ability to attract and retain the best and brightest. Consequently, more housing is needed.

In the long term, as the new residence system reaches equilibrium, the housing provides the valuable flexibility discussed above. With the 350-400 dorm spaces, MIT could:

Renovations to East Campus Houses ($25.5 million)

The "Provision of Housing" principle requires that student housing be safe and well-maintained. The East Campus dormitory violates this principle, and presents pressing renovation demands. While the structure is essentially sound, the internal works of the building are in a poor state. Drastic increases in the amount of power comsumed by students over the years are putting a tremendous strain on the antiquated wiring, which is not properly grounded (and, ominously, includes cloth-covered wires). The building is not properly grounded, placing the residents and their electrical possessions at risk. The plumbing does not meet the current needs of students. The basement is in a particularly poor state. The buildings are not properly ventilated and frequently flood, preventing students from utilizing the space effectively. Institute estimates have put the price of properly renovating East Campus at $25.5 million.

Housing Renewal and Renovation Plan, Phase II ($6 million)

This recommendation carries out the current maintenance plan for dormitories through 2004, [12], which includes a combination of defererred maintenance and needed life/safety improvements. Much of the maintenance plan has been funded through the Capital Plan: $45 million, so far, has been allocated. This recommendation covers the $6 million in renovations that have not yet been funded.

Renovations to Stratton Center ($2 million)

As discussed, Stratton Center provides vital support to the residential communities. This allocation would carry out needed maintenance on the building.

Total by Summer of 2004: $123.5 million

5.4 Projects with Completion Dates of Summer 2009

Construction of a second 500-bed graduate residence hall ($50 million)

A second new graduate dorm would bring on-campus graduate student housing to 47%, helping MIT reach its long-promised goal of housing 50% of graduate students on campus.

Housing Renewal and Renovation Plan, Phase III ($18.5 million)

This allocation would cover the maintenance schedule for dormitories through 2009.

Renovations to Walker Memorial ($31 million)

We have already noted that Walker Memorial is an important support to the residential system, providing valuable community space and serving as the dining hall for residents on the east side of campus. Unfortunately, most of the current space is antiquated and is in very poor repair -- even to the level of causing health hazards (note the recent bird infestation amd closing of the Morss Hall balconies, for example). Much of the space is unusable.

Further, the only way to implement a competitive dining system (as the Institute Dining Review specified) is to renovate Walker Memorial into a space that can serve as a flagship for the center of campus. In addition, a new Walker Memorial would provide badly-needed program and activity office space. The $31 million estimate comes from the recent Walker Memorial renovation committee work. [13]

Total by Summer of 2009: $99.5 million

5.5 Funding for Capital Expenses

The committee recognizes that this section contains a substantial capital request, totaling $273.5 million not including programming and staff support. Nonetheless, these renovations are critical -- we see little alternative if MIT is to carry out the objectives of the residence system and its educational mission. Without support for ILG's, residents may find themselves in substandard conditions they are unable to fix, and the viability of the FSILG system may be threatened (and with it, the stability of the residential system.) Without graduate housing, the goal of providing housing will not be met, and graduate students will be forced into substandard or unaffordable rentals (or will not come to MIT at all). Without a new undergraduate dormitory, the system may see critical housing shortages that threaten to undermine the system; further, the opportunity to end overcrowding and provide much needed flexibility will be wasted. Without carrying out the maintenance plan, students will be forced to live in substandard and potentially hazardous environments, which is not acceptable for a university of MIT's status. Finally, without carrying out renovations to Stratton Center and Walker, important supports to the residence system (and community life in general) will degrade to the point of embarassment.

We recognize that MIT will have difficulties in funding the program. As has been discussed, the Capital Plan reaches MIT's maximum debt ceiling. Further, we do not recommend removing items from the Capital Plan, as those items are critical for the well-being of the Institute as well.

Therefore, we recommend that MIT takes all measures needed to raise the money for this program from alumni, with off-balance sheet funding being used to bring projects to completion on schedule. In discussions with committee members, several administrators have strongly claimed that alumni do not give donations for housing projects. While we believe that there is some truth to this assertion, we also find that continued belief that alumni will not donate to housing projects is a self-fulfilling prophecy. The central importance of the residence system to the core educational mission of MIT should underlie any pitch to a potential donor.

We believe that finding and allocating the resources for the residence system is likely to be sucessful if:

We conclude with a hopeful note in this area. At the Alumni Leadershp Conference, Ray Stata announced that an alumnus has donated $20 million towards the construction of the new undergraduate dormitory. To start the program, we recommend that the $20 million that has been released by this donation be devoted to renovating dining halls and community spaces, and renovating ILG's.

A first-rate residence system is essential to preserving MIT as a first-rate institution. The entire MIT community looks to the senior administration to do what it takes to preserve MIT's stature. Success is the only option.


  1. Principles for the MIT Residential System: Report of a Working Committee. September 1998. Section 2.
  2. Budget Book, Fiscal Year 2000. MIT Office of Budget and Financial Planning. April 28, 1999. Section 6.
  3. John Curry, Executive Vice President of MIT. Quoted in an open forum on graduate housing in the spring of 1999.
  4. Available at: http://www.upenn.edu/resliv/renewal.html
  5. Available at: http://www.campuslife.cornell.edu/Residential_Initiative/
  6. 1. Task Force on Student Life and Learning, Section 4, "Community".
    2. Principles, Section 3.
    3. Institute Dining Review Final Report. November 13, 1997.
  7. Graduate Student Council.
  8. See note 6.
  9. Vanderweil Facility Audit. Spring, 1999.
  10. Number of housing spaces from Phillip Bernard, Residential Life Program Director.
  11. Putting Education First: Final Report of the Student Advisory Committee to the Task Force on Student Life and Learning. April 22, 1998. Section 4.
  12. "Renewing the Foundation of MIT." MIT Facilities/RLSLP, February 1998.
  13. MIT Campus Activities Complex.
  14. Raymond Stata, Chair of the Capital Campaign. Remarks to the Opening Plenary Session of the 1999 Alumni Leadership Conference. October 2, 1999.