Renovation for the Next Generation
Beta Nu Chapter alumni from Massachusetts Institute of Technology who graduated over a 70-year span contributed to renovating the chapter’s historic brownstone in Boston.
As a brownstone built in Boston’s Back Bay in the 1880s, the Beta Nu Shelter at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology boasts tremendous character but presented unique renovation challenges. From the beginning of the renovation project in January 2020 to its completion in fall 2021, the Beta Nu leaders maintained a firm focus on brotherhood – connections that stand the test of time.
Those connections have breathed new life into the shelter brothers have called home since its purchase in 1952. Alumni and undergraduate leaders have hesitated to rely on alumni over the years. Still, when they learned from MIT-hired engineers that the building’s back wall was likely to fall off within five years if they didn't act, they knew it was time for significant structural work. Funding for the recent renovation came from one of only three fundraising campaigns in more than 50 years.
“We decided not to ask alumni for money unless we really needed it other than the token annual dues activity which barely covers the alumni newsletter,” said Jim Shields (Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1971), who co-chaired the fundraising campaign and is a former long-term chapter advisor. But the recent need called for what they consider a once-in-a-generation ask.
More than one in seven living chapter alumni attended the final meeting about the shelter’s future. “We had more than 80 percent vote to renovate the house as opposed to the other option we were looking at—to relocate to a different location on campus,” said Alex Pina (Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2009), who served as Beta Nu Chapter’s House Corporation president and led the renovation project. “The incredibly strong affinity for the chapter’s shelter manifested in how we were able to fundraise.”
While it’s tempting to focus on the $9.3 million collected, Shields is particularly proud of participation by more than 50 percent of all living alumni. “We had at least one donation from every class from 1951 through 2021, so we had 70 consecutive years of brothers who participated,” Shields said. Delts first moved into the Beta Nu Shelter in 1953, meaning several donors who had lived at the chapter’s previous shelter on St. Paul Street rallied to support the current shelter.
Naturally, challenges come with renovating a property in a historical district, but the COVID-19 pandemic introduced additional challenges. The renovation began in January 2020, just before the pandemic took hold. At the end of March 2020, Boston shut down all construction activities. The project was originally slated for nine months with completion before the fall 2020 semester so students could return to the shelter.
As it turned out, students didn’t return to campus until the fall of 2021 and by then the Beta Nu Shelter was ready. “In some ways, the extra time proved valuable as there were things discovered in a more than 100-year-old house that took more time to work around than expected,” Pina said.
One significant win was securing permission to keep the shelter’s rooftop deck which looks over the Charles River. Initially, because adding an elevator to the roof deck was not feasible, they hoped to add a fully accessible roof deck over the garage instead.
Though the garage roof deck was not allowed, an elevator to the second floor provides access to a room designated as an accessible viewing area. “That way everyone can still get somewhat of the view, obviously not as nice as the roof deck or what we had proposed, but we appreciate the state accessibility board working with us to still do something and still try and provide equal access,” Pina said.
A ribbon-cutting ceremony in the fall of 2021 welcomed nearly 100 alumni. Alumni who could not attend toured through a streaming video where they could see how original wood paneling and the skylight were among the many restored areas. Fireplaces throughout the shelter include restored stone, wood and metal work and the staircase has a new mahogany handrail.
The dining area seats between 30 and 40 people and based on the configuration of sleeping and study rooms, the target capacity for the shelter is 39. Each room has its own thermostat, and the rooms are furnished with full-size beds, wardrobes and built-in desks.
With renovations complete Beta Nu Chapter is back in the shelter and poised to forge the future. The chapter recruited 15 new members just after the men moved back into the renovated shelter and in all they initiated 18 men in fall 2021. In early September 2022, they recruited another dozen men, the newest in the next generation to enjoy Beta Nu’s historic shelter.