Tensions Rise Between MIT, City Council
Both sides were there.
Posters emblazoned with the solgan "The Future is Now" were taped to the back wall of they city council chamber.
Outside, members of the Carpenters' union passed out fliers with the headline "Just Say No."
Men and women in business suits sporting "The Future is Now " buttons filled the front rows, surrounded on three sides by carpenters in paint-splattered T-Shirts and jeans.
It was supposed to be routine meeting of the Ordinance Committee. On the agenda was whether to grant MIT's request that certain hearings and reports be waived in the university's application to build a tunnel to connect two buildings under a city street.
But Wednesday afternoon proved to be a showdown between town and grown in Cambridge, as the city councilors' and local union workers' festering dissatisfactions with MIT came to the fore.
The institute went on the defensive preemptively, trotting out professors, students and affiliates to testify to MIT's importance to the city's growth. And to the importance of the tunnel--which runs from its new Biology building to other research buildings--to the city.
The representatives cited the contributions made by the school's biology department to cambridge's growing biotech industry as an example of MIT's importance to the city's economic development.
"Biotech is the next wave of the future," said Ronald P. Suduiko, assistant to the president of MIT for government and community relations.
The tunnel is essential to MIT's plans to stay on the cutting edge of industry, hence their buttons and signs, Suduiko said.
Almost all the city councillors supported the tunnel, yet for over three hours the debate continued, not so much over whether to grant the shortcut, but over a long list of MIT-Cambridge issues.
"What we want to do is look at the big picture with MIT before we make a decision on any individual item," City Councillor Jonathan S. Myers said in an interview yesterday.
The carpenters union, Local 40, was present to protest the institute's recent hiring of a contractor who used non-union workers on a memorial Drive building site at a time when 80 percent of the union's membership was currently unemployed.
Suduiko said that the move was simply a cost-conscious response to a weak economy, citing the fact the institute had to lay off 150 workers at one of their laboratories. Suduiko said the Memorial Drive job was an "isolated" deviation from the institute's usual policy of hiring union labor.
But union members at the meeting disagreed with Suduiko's logic. "If MIT can't afford to pay union wages, they can't afford to build," one union member said.
During at after MIT's presentation, councillors assailed the institute's representative with pointed questions. Several councilors asked why the institute delayed submitting an application for the waiver of the tunnel easement application process.
City Manager Robert W. Healy advised MIT last year that it "wasn't the right time to apply," when school first considered requesting the easement, Suduiko said yesterday.
Because the project would have minimum impact on the community, the school should qualify for a waiver of the usual hearings and impact analyses, he said.
Councillors brought up other touchy issues between the city and the school, including MIT's recent actions in regard to the relocation of an alcohol and substance abuse rehabilitation center located on the school's property.
The councillors expressed their concern with MIT's efforts to relocate the Cambridge and Somerville Program for Alcohol and Drug Addiction Rehabilitation (CASPAR) from its current site on university-owned land.
"The [rehabilitation] building is in shabby shape," City Councillor Francis H. Duehay '55 said in an interview yesterday.
Suduiko said yesterday that MIT had found a new site for the shelter in Central Square. The university plans to refurbish this building and deed it to the city in exchange for streets near MIT.
The institute will present the package to the city in August, he said.
But there is still confusion among councillors over MIT's intentions.
"My understanding is that they were going to donate the location to the city," Duehay said.
And Myers criticized MIT for reneging on a promise he said the school made during the re-zoning of city land near MIT.
"MIT offered a neighborhood to be utilized for housing," Myers said yesterday.
But MIT representatives had a different version of the story.
"To put it simply there is a difference of opinion," said Sarah E. Gallop, assistant for government and community relations at MIT. "That offer was never picked up by [the city]."
MIT officials maintain that they have done little wrong, that the have diligently sought to work with the city.
But his week councillors suggested that the school had shown little interest in city projects, prior to the petition for the tunnel wavier.
"It certainly has been extremely slow," Duehay said. "They've shown no interest until it came time to build the tunnel."
And councillors say these problems--the shelter and the promised housing--must be resolved before it will act on new MIT requests.
"I think that the easement is something of value," Duehay said. "It is very important that the city not give away public land. The city has a great many problems with MIT that it must deal with."