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Columns

One Building, One Man

The ’Intyre Story

By Joyce K. Mcintyre

The Harvard cogs that invisibly rule your life—deans named Jeremy, Harry and David—would like you to believe that they do not know how to solve the College’s space crisis. They acknowledge that student groups are crammed into the basements of first-year dorms and 6,435 undergraduates currently make use of only eight (EIGHT!) treadmills at the Malkin Athletic Center. (That’s 804.38 students per treadmill.) But “space is at a premium,” these deans say, and then get really excited when Harvard has the opportunity to take control of any land on this side of the Charles.

There is plenty of space central to Harvard Yard—110,000 square feet of prime real estate—that is NOT living up to its potential. Jeremy, Harry and David know this. We’re talking here about the most powerful man at Harvard, Jeremy R. Knowles, who announced his retirement yesterday as dean of the Faculty; my favorite computer scientist Harry R. Lewis ’68, who moonlights as dean of the College; and David A. Zewinski ’76, a.k.a. THE MAN when it comes to College buildings—he gets his pay check for being the associate dean of physical resources and planning for the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS).

These three have maps, color coded ones in fact, indicating that of all the Houses, classrooms, lecture halls and offices in the River area, the MAC is some of the most underutilized square footage around. Those grimy wide halls and decaying concrete stairs that are the MAC don’t meet nearly as many student needs as they could. Knowing this about the MAC is easy, fixing it is another task entirely.

Lewis has been recently and frequently wining and dining the obligatory Harvard donors, in search of funds for a major overhaul that could transform the MAC into what it should be—a masterfully designed, 24-hour accessible, recreational fitness facility and central home of student office space. The MAC is named for Peter L. Malkin ’55 (giver of a paltry $4 million in 1985 for the building’s last major facelift) and anyone who has their name on a building will not want it taken off. I bet you a draft of my thesis that Malkin is willing to play his ace—a stipulation clause in the legal paperwork of the 1985 gift that keeps Harvard from changing the name of the building. So Harry and Harvard need to find a non-undergraduate, not awake for 24-hours donor to give tens of millions of dollars to a fitness facility that will be open around the clock for students. And this special someone has to be o.k. with not having her name on the building. A dean’s nightmare.

But for any of these scintillating fundraising details to matter, the Dean of the Faculty must make renovations of the MAC a Faculty priority, instead of having it at the bottom of a ‘To Do’ list, as Knowles did. Though Lewis emphasized how important it is to improve the MAC in his five year plan for the College, and despite the fact that FAS has commissioned a now very tardy space report about the building, Knowles has not recognized that renovations to the MAC are needed as soon as possible to ease the College’s student life, as opposed to academic or residential, space crisis.

Knowles has the power to move the Varsity athletic programs that are currently using the MAC (fencing, volleyball, wrestling) to appropriate facilities across the River, a key step in getting the construction project underway. (Just one small indication of Jeremy’s authority—the Department of Harvard Athletics reports directly to him). For the next five months, only the British guy can release the big FAS money that will get the MAC rolling. So much rests on one individual. Such is the structure of Harvard.

Knowles is no Scrooge. Under his tenure, FAS has spent money left and right, and on improvements that really affect students’ quality of life, too. The renovated Harvard Hall, Holden Chapel and Boylston Hall provide gleaming classroom space, and a $22 million, 32,000 square foot addition to the Science Center will get underway this summer. The most powerful man at Harvard has even agreed to renovate the dilapidated Hasty Pudding Building (a project now expected to cost well over $10 million) and ruminated to the Faculty about converting the Inn at Harvard into academic space. And then there is the slow to happen Center for International and Government Studies with its controversial and expensive underground tunnel, where just the permit to dig the thing will cost $300,000.

The British guy isn’t cheap, he simply has not made the MAC a top priority. And he should.

The woeful inadequacies of the MAC don’t need to be recounted here. However, the glorious possibility of what the building could be should spur whoever replaces Knowles to prioritize the issues of undergraduate fitness and recreation, central student office space and a 24-hour gathering space for Harvard. The reams of space encompassed in the building should be designed by the very best of architects to maximize the amount of fitness equipment and the number of student offices that can be included. This is a building near the Yard that could hold a world-class fitness facility and provide a home for Harvard’s many student groups, all while being open 24 hours a day.

Students’ health and well-being is important. Reasonable amounts of office space for Harvard’s vibrant student groups are important. And a central gathering spot, accessible to the College 24 hours a day is important. As important, if not more so, than new classrooms, renovated labs or a fancy tunnel.

Please hurry up Dean Knowles (or whoever attempts to fill his really big shoes)—there are 804.38 people in front of me in the line for the treadmill!

Joyce K. McIntyre ’02 is a history and literature concentrator in Kirkland House. Her column appears on alternate Tuesdays.

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