Student Clubs, Staff Vie for MAC Space

News Feature

Although the Malkin Athletic Center (MAC) cannot accommodate the increased demands placed upon it for intramural and recreational space, the University has left the nearest available athletic space in limbo for the past decade and has no plans to upgrade it, administrators say.

As interest in health and fitness has increased and as the number of athletic recreational and dance clubs has grown, leaders of undergraduate organizations complain that they have been denied rooms at the already-full MAC.

With the increase in interest and the lack of space, Associate Director of Athletics John Wentzell, who is in charge of scheduling space at the MAC, says he turns away many organizations he would like to accommodate in the MAC's mezzanine and practice rooms.

And Wentzell says he has been parcelling what little space there is out in blocks of two hours a week, leaving student groups scrounging for places to practice.

"We do 10 hours of practice each week but only get two hours in the MAC," Crimson Dance Team member Roxanne S. Pan '96 says.

"We get space in the Agassiz dance studio, if we can, or the Lowell lecture hall, and sometimes in basketball courts, but those are usually taken by [intramurals]," she says.

Despite the lack of space, Wentzell and David Zewinski, senior vice president for property operations and construction, say there are no active plans to increase the amount of multi-function space that Harvard can provide to undergraduate, staff or faculty groups.

Athletes, however, will have new playing spaces as soon as Harvard can afford them. Harvard plans to build a tennis and racquet facility in Allston which, according to project manager George Oommen, will be completed within the next two years once funding is secured.

The new facility is needed because Harvard's current squash courts do not meet the larger, international dimensions which are increasingly being used and because Harvard has only three intercollegiate-quality tennis courts.

The facility will have a weight room, according to Oommen, but will not have space for recreational groups.

The Linden Street Squash courts, which Zewinski calls "disused," have been in their current state for a decade, according to Wentzel, but there are no plans to upgrade or replace them.

Zewinski says that Harvard is researching what could be done with them, but says that the possibilities currently under consideration do not include athletics.

Student groups, already using the dilapidated Linden St. space for make-shift practice rooms, say the College should consider providing new multi-function practice spaces which all groups could use.

The organizations using the Linden Street space include the Harvard Wireless Club, the Harvard Polo Club, the table tennis club and the Ballet Folkorico de Aztlan, a group which performs Mexican folk dances.

Ballet President Faustino G. Ramos '96 says his group uses the Linden Street space to avoid damaging the MAC's floors.

"We have resorted to buying our own sheets of masonite wood which we put down on top of the squash courts," Ramos says.

Currently, Wentzell says he squeezes dozens of groups into the MAC's 92-hour week by scheduling many activities at "crazy" hours, on Friday evenings and weekend mornings.

"We have had a space Sunday morning nine to 11," Shoenhals says. "It's been pretty open to us for those two hours, which I think is as much time as any group can get it."

Leaders of six undergraduate dance and recreation organizations interviewed say that two hours of practice a week is inadequate, but that they are thankful they are given any time at all.

Other groups say the MAC is not adequate for their work.

"We have a hard time using the MAC space," says Amy Shoenhals '96 of the Harvard-Radcliffe Ballet Company. "We can't do point work on the MAC floor, so we only use the MAC for rehearsals. We rehearse in soft shoes, and the floor is slippery and is not really safe."

Yoga Contortions

The case of Harvard Health and Fitness, a University of Health Services (UHS) organization which sponsors health and exercise classes for University faculty and staff, demonstrates the tight squeeze on space at the MAC.

This summer Wentzell informed Health and Fitness that its popular daily yoga classes would no longer be able to use space at the MAC. The group ended up renting space off-campus, according to its director Annemarie Calhoun.

She said yoga classes had used rooms adjacent to the wrestling's teams room, which had in the past also been used by a student-oriented yoga class.

A change this summer in Ivy League regulations decreased the total number of hours wrestlers could practice with the team, but allows the coach to spend additional time with a small number of wrestlers.

Coach of Wrestling Jay Weiss says he needs the room at all times, in order to practice with wrestlers who have free time at lunch or other points in the day, and thus he asked Wentzell to move the student yoga classes out of the room.

Because undergraduate athletics take priority over non-student use, student yoga classes were moved to the adjacent practice rooms and Harvard Health and Fitness was told it could no longer use the MAC.

"We had to take some time back," says Wentzell. "Harvard Health and Fitness is a guest in our facility and we have been extremely kind to them over the years, but the wrestling team needs more time."

Calhoun says that her group looked for space on campus but eventually had to rent rooms at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education.

"Undergraduates take priority," she says. "The interest by faculty and staff is growing and it would be great to find one space, but there just isn't any."

Staff members in classes that have moved off-campus have complained that their needs aren't cared for.

"It's a sad set of priorities," said one staff member. "The athletic department basically only cares about the varsity athletes. In a University as big as Harvard, they couldn't find one space for this program."

"Now we have to pay more for the program, because we have to pay for the rent of the space," the staff member adds.

Dr. David S. Rosenthal '59, director of UHS, says that Harvard does care about staff's health and exercise programs, but that space is unfortunately tight.

"We try to get as many of the Health and Fitness programs on campus as possible in whatever spaces we can," Rosenthal says.

"Space is a constant issue," he says. "We are hoping Memorial Hall will provide some space. We also use the [common] rooms in the Houses and at the Quad."

Zewinski disputes the assertion that Harvard is not balancing the athletic needs of its varsity athletes, students, faculty and staff.

"Athletics is important for the entire Harvard community," he says. "Harvard accommodates everyone."

Additional Space

As space grows scarcer, administrators and student groups are eyeing the vacant Linden St. squash courts for a variety of uses.

The space is owned by the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, the institution to which the Department of Athletics belongs, and could be used for any purpose, Zewinski said, including offices, laboratories or dormitories.

Wentzell says he has said many times that the Linden Street space would make a good fitness center, but that he has no idea what the University will do with it.

"I have no reason to be optimistic or pessimistic," he says. "It is certainly real estate that could be used better. Two years ago we sat down with an FAS planning group and discussed athletic space, but it is still something that people higher up need to decide on."

Director of Athletics Bill Cleary '56-'58, who is responsible for directing the College's use of athletic space, last night declined to comment for this story.

If the Linden Street courts are transformed into office space, it is unclear where the organizations currently using it on both an ad hoc and permanent basis would go.

Zewinski says, however, that the University has made no decision abo what to do with the courts.

"Lord help us as far as the squash courts go," Zewinski says. "We haven't found anything for those things."

Zewinski says that his office is conducting a study of whether if would be cheaper to renovate the squash courts for another purpose or to build a new building in their place.

"The dilemma we face right now is how to retrofit the facility, given the regulatory environment, access codes and the like in a cost-effective solution," he says.CrimsonRebecca L. BennettMembers of a student Tae Kwon Do class practice in the MAC mezzanine yesterday.