Five-year renovation begins for Unified Science Center

The second phase of construction in the Science Center will see Bronfman demolished. Tim Nagle-McNaughton/Photo Editor
The second phase of construction in the Science Center will see Bronfman demolished. Tim Nagle-McNaughton/Photo Editor

The College is initiating a five-year plan to renovate the Unified Science Center. The plan will add a new building behind Morley Scientific Laboratory (MSL) and replace Bronfman Science Center and Clark Hall with a more modern, energy-efficient structure.

The renovations will take place in two phases, with completion scheduled for the fall of 2020. The project will cost an estimated $200 million, though better cost estimates will be available in the spring.

The project will increase the space of the Science Center by 50 percent, to 160,000 square feet, and cut energy usage in half.

The new Bronfman building will house the mathematics, statistics, psychology and geoscience departments in their entirety. The addition to MSL will include offices, classrooms and labs for the biology, chemistry and physics departments.

The project stems from two impetuses: a need to renovate energy-inefficient Bronfman and a desire to make room for growth in individual departments and faculty research over the next twenty years. A facilities condition assessment of Bronfman revealed that the building is so energy-inefficient – it leaks significant amounts of heat during the winter – that it would cost around $75 million to just renovate the facility, according to Fred Puddester, vice president for finance and administration.

Puddester added that though he does not foresee a lot of growth in the number of students in the sciences overall, students tend to take courses in waves and departments want to build in space for these trends.

“We need modern, flexible space,” said Protik Majumder, professor of Physics and director of the Science Center, “and we need more space.”

The new laboratory building will consist mostly of labs in order to increase energy efficiency. The new Bronfman will house classrooms, faculty offices and psychology labs.

Frank Morgan, chair of the math department, acknowledged the need for additional space but expressed concern that the plans for the new building included ground floor and  basement classrooms without windows, which he considers “a degradation of classroom space.”

Amy Gehring, chair of the chemistry department, is optimistic about the project and “excited by the prospect of moving into new space, lab and offices, that are more conducive to teaching and doing research alongside undergraduates.”

In the first phase of construction, scheduled to end in 2018, the College will build the new laboratory building. Over the summer, the College tore down Siskind House in Morley Circle to make room for the new laboratory building. In Nov., the College will move Miller House, which currently occupies part of the new building’s location, to an empty, college-owned lot on South St.

After relocating Miller, the College can begin putting soil borings in the ground south of MSL to test how much ledge rock is present. Since ledge rock is difficult to build on, the amount in the soil will determine the final design of the new building. The architecture firm, Payette, which specializes in science buildings, will complete a design by next summer, at which point construction will begin.

In the summer of 2018, once the new laboratory building is complete, the science departments that are currently located in the south of Bronfman will move into the new labs and offices. The departments located in north Bronfman, math and psychology, will move into temporary housing while the College tears Bronfman down and replaces it.

Puddester said that while temporary buildings are not ideal, they are unavoidable in the process. Though they will look temporary from the outside, the inside will be functional: “Inside, you won’t know you’re in a temporary building. They look fine inside; they’re still warm in the winter.”

Majumder acknowledged that displacement is a necessary sacrifice. “Nobody wants to be displaced,” he said. “It’s not an ideal situation. But the goal is to think about the big picture and the long term, not only for us but for the next generation of Williams students and faculty.”

When construction of the new Bronfman building is finished in 2020, the faculty that moved off-site, as well as the geoscience department, which is currently located in Clark, will move into the building.

Funding for the project will come from bonds, gifts and money from the endowment. The College will have a better price estimate in the spring, which is when it will issue bonds.

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