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Engineering clubs pushed out by renovations, with little explanation

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Engineering clubs pushed out by renovations, with little explanation

Corey Dockser

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Baja Society of American Engineers Northeastern received an email from the College of Engineering on June 30 stating that they had to vacate their lab space in the basement of Richards Hall. A week later, they set up in the basement of Gainsboro Garage, struggling to continue their work with limited space and a lack of tools previously provided by the university.

“We got an email saying we need to vacate the space that we were occupying — that’s all,” said Max Gieraltowski, a fifth-year mechanical engineering major and president of Baja. Baja is a student organization which designs and races off-road cars.

With only a week to move out, Baja gathered the few members on campus during the summer and had them pack everything they could into bins provided by the university. They had to transport everything else, including their vehicles, on their own to Gainsboro Garage.

“Gainsboro’s like an assembly area where we can do some hands-on stuff, and it’s also a storage space for some defunct clubs,” Gieraltowski said. “It’s a temporary space for us, but it’s not just like shelves with boxes, it’s kind of open and we do stuff in there.”

But the garage space is small and lacks the heavy machinery Baja needs for much of its work. The welders and other tools used to be located in the machine shop next to their old lab space beneath Richards. Not having easy access has created a variety of problems for the organization.

“Normally we would only have to move the frame of our vehicle to the machine shop, do our welding, and be good to go, but we weren’t able to do that because we had to take it all the way from Gainsboro to the machine shop in Forsyth,” said Ben Lerman, a fifth-year mechanical engineering major and vice president of Baja. “We had to work in between Capstone machine jobs to work in that machine shop.”

Every October, a motorsports competition called Midnight Mayhem is held in Louisville, Kentucky. Baja had attended many times in the past, but this time they were unable to complete maintenance on their vehicle in time for the competition.

“I think, ultimately, we can probably say that we didn’t make it to the competition because all of the movement drained our time,” Gieraltowski said.

Baja isn’t the only club suffering from the missing space. Students for the Exploration and Development of Space, or SEDS, rented out the space last year. SEDS is “a club that’s dedicated to giving undergrads the opportunities to perform interesting research projects where they can get hands-on experience looking at novel space systems, robotics and interesting technologies,” said Daniel McGann, a third-year computer science and computer engineering combined major and SEDS’ vice president of innovation.

Unlike Baja, SEDS doesn’t need lab space year-round. It rents space on a semester-by-semester basis for individual projects, said McGann. He and his team have been attempting to find space for two Mars-related projects — a machine that drills for ice and a rover.

“Our system’s going to be a $10,000 robot, it’s about one meter by one meter by two meters tall, and we need to get messy because we’re drilling into dirt and then ice,” said McGann, referring to the Mars Ice Challenge. “Richards was perfect because we could lay down a big tarp, get as messy as we need and clean it all up easily.”

SEDS needs space by January and it hasn’t been able to find any on campus, said President Ben Zinser, a third-year mechanical engineering major. He said he has not received any information about the status of the renovations in the basement of Richards.

The organization is even considering renting space off campus. SEDS doesn’t need to use the machine shops, they only need space.

“If they can’t give us space, we have the funding to [go off campus],” McGann said. “We’ve been given the money to do this competition and we have a timeline and we’re motivated to do it, we’re going to find a place.”

Not all engineering clubs were affected by the renovations in the Richards basement. Hyperloop Club, which has a lab space in the basement but off to the side of the renovation site, is able to continue operating in its space.

Northeastern American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, or AIAA, borrows lab space from Bridget Smyser, an associate teaching professor at the department of mechanical and industrial engineering. But Smyser has very little space to give, said Karl Swanson, a third-year computer engineering major and president of AIAA.

“If you’re a student organization trying to book lab space, you’re probably not going to have much luck there,” Swanson said. “Northeastern is very, very tight on space even for its own classes and labs, so it’s very difficult to find space.”

The administration didn’t respond to a request for comment, and none of the clubs contacted for this story had heard any specifics about the renovations from the administration. While the College of Engineering has been trying to help them find space, the lack of communication from higher levels of the bureaucracy make it difficult to make decisions, McGann said.

“No one’s said ‘this is what’s going to happen to [the Richards lab space] and we’ll be ready at this time, plan your club’s activities accordingly,’” McGann said. “All we’ve heard is ‘it’s not there, no one can use it right now.’ And so that’s challenging because it makes planning very difficult.”

 

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Engineering clubs pushed out by renovations, with little explanation