The new yet-to-be-named science center located on Church Street passed several construction milestones over the summer and is on track to its expected completion in 2026. It will replace Hall-Atwater serving the Departments of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry (MB&B), Chemistry and Biology.
“The four-level structure, designed by Payette Architects, will house 39 research and support laboratories, 10 classrooms, nine teaching laboratories, a hangar, a greenhouse, outdoor spaces, and an advanced instrumentation laboratory,” campus reporter and media relations assistant Mike Mavridakis wrote in the Wesleyan Connection .
Site excavation was completed in March 2023, and the main foundation was completed in July 2023. Currently, the steel structure is being built and initial installation of the mechanical, electrical and plumbing components is underway. Managers say the entire project is about a month ahead of schedule.
Senior Project Manager Michael Rosalie, Director of Facilities and Infrastructure Andrew Plotkin, and Vice President of Construction and Infrastructure Alan Robacha worked together to oversee construction. The three collaborated on a written statement explaining how they kept the project on time.
“The construction team has been very diligent about purchasing all long-lead equipment early in the process to address any supply chain issues,” the statement read. “The construction team worked closely with state and local regulatory agencies and all required permits were obtained in a timely manner.”
Suitable weather conditions also contributed to the project’s efficiency.
The directors also stated that the construction and operation of the building aims to be environmentally sustainable. While in use, the building will have an energy use intensity (EUI) score — that is, energy used per square foot — of 83, while Hall-Atwater’s is 320.
One technique to reduce energy use is to eliminate unnecessary airflow. Rosalie said fume hoods are one of the largest energy consumers in the lab. In the new science building, the fume hood ventilation speed will be reduced from 100 to 60 feet per minute to maintain the required ventilation through the hood. Fume hoods will also start and stop ventilation automatically, on timers, to reduce unnecessary operation of fume hoods in unoccupied rooms. They stated that the comprehensive ventilation of the laboratory will also be automated.
“Smart ventilation using a system called Air Acuity will allow precise ventilation to minimize building air changes through continuous monitoring of air quality,” the statement read. “This will allow us to reduce building air changes to 4 times per hour during busy times and 2 per hour when empty.”
Other features of the new science building will reduce heat loss to reduce energy consumption. It will feature high-performance walls and roof assemblies, triple-pane windows, and a unique double-glazed facade that allows natural sunlight and warmth into the building in the winter, but insulates against excess heat in the summer.
The science centre, which is mainly funded through donations and existing university funds, aims to improve the STEM research environment. The building is designed to foster partnerships between laboratories in the Departments of Chemistry, MB&B, and Biology. Biology Department Chair Michael Singer believes the building will foster collaboration in those areas, but he believes the building will be somewhat isolated from other Natural Sciences and Mathematics (NSM) departments.
“The building will contain shared writing spaces that will also allow for collaboration and interaction between different labs,” Singer wrote in an email to The Argus. “However, there will be more physical separation between those departments and the rest of NSM. This separation is a concern for some faculty, such as those from the Molecular Biophysics Program and the School of Integrative Sciences.)
Directors hope to create a building that will stand the test of time as the university quickly approaches its bicentenary and plans its third century of operation.
“We worked to ensure that the building was constructed of durable, high-quality materials so that it would last for a hundred years,” the statement read. “The building itself is highly energy efficient: LEED Gold certified, with a 75% reduction in energy use from the lab’s baseline, making it three times more efficient than Hall-Atwater.”
Hoping that the building would become a hub of the campus for many years, administrators worked to make the space attractive and accessible.
“It was important to us throughout the project to promote equity, diversity and inclusion by providing clear pathways and comfortable, welcoming spaces,” the statement read.
In that regard, the new science center will be an upgrade from Hall-Atwater, said Chemistry Department Chair Brian Northrup.
“Hall-Atwater has become somewhat of a hodgepodge of labs, offices and teaching spaces that has had to adapt to departmental needs quickly and within the confines of the building as it is,” Northrup wrote in an email to The Argus. “The new science center has essentially provided a clean slate that has allowed (the chemistry department) to help proactively design teaching and research spaces to meet our needs, rather than reactively whenever issues arise.”
Scott Holmes, chair of the Department of Molecular Biology and Biophysics, agrees that this science center represents a much-needed improvement to NSM departments.
“The Hall-Atwater and Shanklin buildings are functional, but have required numerous repairs and renovations to maintain a reasonable infrastructure for our research and teaching. We are overdue for a complete replacement,” Holmes wrote.
The directors discussed their intentions for the design of the new science center and its surroundings and its relationship to the existing university buildings and spaces. Through the architecture and location of the new center, they hope it will become a mainstay of campus life.
“The building is located…to serve as a gateway to the campus, on the approach to High Street,” the statement read. “Entry points to the building align with existing traffic routes along College Row, Butterfield and the Exley Science Centre, with a large new green space for gathering space between the Western Front and Shanklin. (It will be called ‘Wesleyan Place’, a street that (existed) before Hall-Atwater was built.) It will be a large green space with informal outdoor learning space and places to relax.
Holmes discussed how the center’s design can help foster deeper, more engaging interactions between students and professors, both inside and outside the classroom.
“The design of the new building will make our research activities more visible to lay students and is likely to attract more students to join the laboratories,” Holmes wrote. “A few years ago, the Exley Lobby was a featureless corridor; the addition of the Pi Cafe along with numerous tables and seating has transformed this area. The design of the new building will create similar destinations for students to meet, study and interact with faculty.”
The construction team looks forward to achieving many milestones in the coming years. They hope to install the concrete slabs for the foundation by February 2024, build the outer shell by August 2024, complete the interior rough construction by September 2024, and finish the interior construction by October 2025. Testing, inspection and commissioning should be done by 2024. February 2026 Furniture move-in is scheduled by July 2026, and the building is scheduled to open in fall 2026.
Northrup discussed his enthusiasm for the new building and its addition to the university community.
“The building’s design is more open, cohesive, and collaborative than Atwater Hall,” Northrup wrote. “I envision it becoming a hub for not only science-focused students, but also a space that all students, faculty, and staff will benefit from. The building is designed to showcase the amazing research being done here at Wesleyan (literally, there’s glass everywhere), which I think It will help attract more current and potential students to science.
Gabriel McIntosh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.