College Moves Forward with Plan to Build Science Center on East Campus
Issue   |   Wed, 10/30/2013 - 01:02
Olivia Tarantino ‘15 Photography Editor
The Board of Trustees has approved a plan to build science center on the east campus. The Merrill and McGuire buildings will be left intact and developed for other uses.

After months of uncertainty due to unforeseen construction difficulties, the College is finally moving forward with an updated plan to build a new science center on the east campus. On Oct. 11, the Board of Trustees approved a plan to raze the social dorms in order to make way for the new science center, which will be completed by the fall of 2018. The plan also provides for the construction of new permanent student housing south of Merrill, where the temporary dorms Plaza and Waldorf are currently located.

Although the College had initially intended to build the new science center on the site of the current Merrill Science Center, the project stalled this spring after the Board voted to abandon plans for the Merrill site.

“The administration and Board of Trustees have made this decision for two key reasons,” said President Biddy Martin in an e-mail to the College community dated May 2. “First, because of the escalation in cost, which can be attributed, in large part, to the demands of the site; and, second, because the impact of the preparatory work indicates that construction will cause unacceptable disruption to faculty research, teaching, and student life.”

Following the May announcement, the Facilities Working Committee interviewed a variety of architectural firms to help with the new planning process. They eventually settled on Beyer Blinder Belle, who, along with Payette Associates, helped to create the plan that the Board of Trustees approved during its Oct. 11 meeting. In an Oct. 18 statement on the science center construction, the Board noted that the College also spent time studying and visiting science centers at other college campuses, including Princeton, Middlebury, Hamilton, Swarthmore, Colgate and Dartmouth.

Despite last spring’s delays, Director of Facilities Jim Brassord said he still anticipates the science center opening in fall 2018, as originally planned.

“In order to accommodate this schedule, construction of the science center on the east campus must begin during the summer of 2016,” Brassord explained. He also noted that construction on the new student housing in the Plaza and Waldorf locations will begin in the summer of 2015 and will last approximately a year.

Although the new science center has not yet been designed, the College’s Strategic Planning website contains a copy of the Campus Assessment and Framework Presentation given at the Board of Trustees meeting on Oct. 11. Although the center has not yet been designed, the presentation lists five potential layouts for the complex, each of which provides room for future expansion. According to the website, these images are “not design images,” but “will be utilized to inform the design process as it moves forward.”

Merrill and McGuire will be left intact, although the administration has not yet decided on a new use for the buildings.
Like the current Merrill Science Center, the new center will have classrooms, labs and office space for the Biology, Chemistry, Computer Science, Neuroscience, Physics, Psychology and Biochemistry-Biophysics Departments.

“We, the science faculty, have been assured the new building will have everything it needs to be a first-rate center of science that supports cutting-edge research and teaching,” said Chair of Biochemistry-Biophysics Anthony Bishop. “To my knowledge, the current plan supports this vision.”

Brassord agreed, stating that the College plans to design a space that will provide for high-quality research and teaching as well as departmental collaboration. He explained that the project will also include the creation of a “Greenway,” a landscaped outdoor walkway on the hillside by the science center. The Greenway will supplement more traditional outdoor gathering spaces at the College, such as the First-Year Quad.

“Unlike areas of the campus with flat topography that have resulted in the development of traditional quadrangles over generations, the east campus is characterized by the sloping hillside, which calls for a more organically formed landscaped connection,” Brassord said. “This landscape strategy will encourage pedestrian traffic and outdoor gatherings and will offer new paths of movement around the perimeter of the hillside.”

The Board of Trustees presentation describes the Greenway as “a dignified tree-lined path set in an open-feeling campus green.”

However, before construction on the science center can begin, the administration must begin work on housing to replace the soon-to-be-destroyed social dorms.

“To support construction of the new dorms south of Merrill we will have to raze the Plaza and Waldorf and will be without that bed capacity for one year,” Brassord said. “There is sufficient aggregate system capacity to absorb this temporary loss of beds during this brief period of construction.”

The two temporary dorms have a current combined capacity of 66 beds. Brassord said that the College plans to build close to 280 beds on the Plaza and Waldorf site in order to make up for the 272 beds that will be lost when the social dorms are razed.

“Although the design process has not yet started, we know from student feedback that fundamentally what works well for our campus is smaller dorms that define and support connected communities,” Brassord said. “Therefore, we anticipate that these 280 beds will be distributed over a number of smaller dorms, perhaps four to five.”

Torin Moore, Director of Residential Life and Assistant Dean of Students, said in an email that the administration has not yet begun to discuss details of the housing plans, but that more information will be available in the coming weeks.

In the meantime, both administrators and faculty have expressed their excitement to be pressing forward with the science center plans after last spring’s delays.

“The science center planning has been going on for some time — and has had its ups and downs,” Professor Bishop said. “So all progress is welcome progress.”