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Two 70-foot banners hung from the roof of 70 Pacific St. down to the second floor, forming backdrops to the dedication ceremony for the new residence hall and the opening ceremony of the Johnson Games held in its honor.
One banner proudly announced the new Sidney-Pacific residence (as it's called by the residents, who refer to themselves as Spies). The second banner proclaimed the start of the 2002 Johnson Games: "Let the Competition Begin!"
As Johnson Games contestants milled around the parking lot next to the residence hall, finding their teammates and organizing into divisions, Sidney-Pacific residents offered tours of their new home. The graduate students made it clear that the new residence hall is not just a dormitory; it's their home, a place they've helped plan for and develop with the goal of creating a community.
"I would like to welcome you all to our new home," Sham Sokka, president of the Sidney-Pacific House Council, said in a short speech at the dedication ceremonies before the Johnson Games.
"Next to this parking lot, you might see just another new building. In fact compared to the other new buildings at MIT, it might seem quite ordinary. Well, I would like to tell you that there is nothing ordinary about Sidney-Pacific. It is the culmination of a dream: a dream that started decades ago, of bringing us often-isolated graduate students closer to campus, and providing us with a safe, affordable environment," said Sokka, a graduate student in health sciences and technology.
"We would like to thank the MIT senior administration for listening to us, and committing the funds to build Sidney-Pacific ... But the MIT senior administration did more than fund this building, they supported the process by which this building was built.
"In this building process, we stumbled onto something that we have been trying to define and promote for a long time: MIT-wide community ... How fitting that today we open Sidney-Pacific with the Johnson Games, a celebration of our MIT community," he said.
Professor Roger Mark of the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology called the residence "a beautiful building" in his brief remarks. "It came in under budget. It came in on time. And we are excited to be living in it," said the housemaster, who moved into the building with his wife, Dottie, this summer.
Dean of Graduate Students Isaac Colbert referred to it as "the magnificent new Sidney-Pacific dormitory.
"It has taken about 10 years," Colbert said, since MIT decided to have "2,000 graduate student beds in the year 2000. Ten years and several generations of student leadership ... [show] what the collective efforts of so many people can do. It was built with community in mind, with places for people to come together to meet academically and non-academically, to live, work and play."
The dorm has nine floors and will house about 700 students in four wings, making it the largest residence hall at MIT. It has plenty of common space decorated in ways that encourage conversation and interaction among the residents, who have already created a bicycle room in the basement for shared bicycles. Soon they'll have their own 60-gallon saltwater aquarium, being prepared now by the Aquarium Committee.
Committee chair Joe Jankowski of Big Bear, Calif., a first-year graduate student in mechanical engineering, eagerly tackled the task of preparing the new tank. "To have your own aquarium and somebody else pay for it ... What's better than that? It might not seem like a very important position, but it's a lot more work than I expected," said Jankowski, who loves living in Sidney-Pacific.
"This could be the best dorm in the country. I have a double with a rommate who cooks. He's been making cookies for everyone in the dorm. His name is Nathan. I don't know his last name. I've never asked," said Jankowski, who invites a visitor to his room to take a cookie, but only one or two. "Don't take a lot of them," he said.
The 346,000-square-foot residence hall has common areas on each floor, including kitchens, study areas, seminar rooms and music rooms. It also has a computer cluster, gymnasium, cable TV station, and a courtyard with electric grills and 12 round tables and chairs.
After the tours and the very brief speeches, President Charles M. Vest turned the crowd's attention back to the competition of the day, the Johnson Games by introducing the games' father, President Emeritus Howard Johnson, who encouraged the competitors to have fun.
And after all was said and done, Sidney-Pacific really did carry the day. The Pacific Vice team, formed by the Spies and staff members from areas reporting to the executive vice president, took first place in the Johnson Games, making community history in yet another way.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on October 2, 2002.