Necessary Evils

The MAC renovations ultimately serve the interest of today’s undergraduates

The Malkin Athletic Center (MAC)—our old and decrepit gym—is scheduled for an infrastructure overhaul beginning this spring. The building was, after all, built in 1930. It will open again, and it will be better: “More pleasant, efficient, and with a new elevator,” promised Wendy Healy, general manager of the MAC. With the College’s recreational athletic facilities lagging far behind its peers, we are looking forward to be greeted next fall by a new MAC.

The MAC has needed renovation for longer than most current students have been here. In the spring of 2004, it had become almost unbearable. Students told stories of waiting an hour and a half for a thirty minute timeslot on the treadmill. During the summer of 2004, the MAC was given a quick-fix $2 million renovation, funded by the College, which nearly doubled its space and equipment and silenced the outcry. But while this was a nice facelift, it didn’t touch the infrastructural updates that were really needed—and which were then estimated at $30 million.

The newest renovations are phase two of the same project. Now that several generous donations, earmarked for the MAC, have made it possible, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) is finishing the job. Unfortunately, this phase is not only more expensive, but it is going to take longer, too. The MAC needs to be closed for six to seven months. Three of those will be during summer break, but there is no practical way around having the rest fall during the school year.

As with the Lamont Café, Loker Pub, and Quincy Grille, FAS appears to be doing its best to schedule construction during the summer. The start date, which has not yet been finalized, will be chosen so that the MAC will re-open next September, making optimal use of the summer months. Summer, however, will never be seven months long.

Students are rightfully concerned about the repercussions of the MAC’s closing. Amidst the flurry of concern, a “Save the MAC” petition has gathered around 330 signatures. Where is CityStep going to practice? Or Taekwondo? What about varsity fencing? Volleyball? Wrestling? What will happen to intramural sports? And yoga classes? Not to mention the 8,000 to 9,000 visits to the MAC in a typical week, just for workouts. Running outside in February isn’t exactly practical.

Students have raised very legitimate concerns, and we expect the College to take note. For its part, the MAC staff is well aware of how much their facilities are used—it is a point of pride for them—and they are already looking for alternate spaces for student groups. “[Temporary spaces] may not be as convenient,” said Healy, “but we will find space. Our goal is to accommodate for most...student groups.” With “strategic scheduling,” the MAC staff also hopes to move its usual array of classes to Hemenway, the Law School gym. These are promising ideas, and we hope they are only the beginning of a plan to assuage student fears.

The spaces and hours of Hemenway, the House gyms, varsity athletic facilities, and the Quad’s QRAC must all be optimized to deal with displaced MAC users. House gyms are blatantly inadequate right now, but should be improved by loans of the MAC’s equipment—a plan which is under consideration, according to Jeremy Gibson, associate director of athletics. Varsity athletic facilities could also be shared to a larger extent without impinging on varsity teams’ needs. Gibson pointed out that club and varsity teams already share O’Donnell and Ohiri Fields and the MAC. Some facilities, like the Gordon Track and Field Center, also have unused space where cardio machines from the MAC should be placed.

Certainly, the MAC’s closure will be inconvenient this spring. But that is not reason to indefinitely delay renovations. We appreciate and applaud FAS’s decision to renovate, particularly when Harvard’s plans for expansion into Allston have been used in the past as an excuse for putting off infrastructure renewal.

Ultimately, the success of this initiative depends on the MAC and Athletic Department staff backing up their assurances. Student concerns need to be addressed soon, well before the MAC closes in February. The renovations are sure to be an inconvenience, but they are hardly a disaster. Come September, everyone will have their space back and the MAC’s improvements will last much longer than a spring semester.