Union College officials are in the early planning stages of a renovation to the science and engineering building that promises to be the “single largest project” in the college’s history.
Union President Stephen Ainlay, who spoke publicly about the project during the college’s fall convocation, fleshed out more details during a February interview. He also warned that nothing was final until the Board of Trustees approved the project.
“Part of what we are about this go around is creating a space that will last for the next 30 to 50 years,” Ainlay said. “So anticipating the way in which science and engineering will change, creating a space where you encourage cross-disciplinary collaborations, is all part of the way in which we are designing the space.”
The existing facility, which sits behind the Olin Center, was built in the late-1960s and dedicated in 1971. During the convocation, Ainlay said the building “quite frankly, is getting tired.”
Study groups of faculty, students and other stakeholders have started to work with architects on preliminary plans for the renovation, working through “various iterations” of conceptual drawings, Ainaly said.
The new facility, Ainlay said, would emphasize collaborative workspaces and create areas for “science on display,” where labs and other research spaces could be viewed through large glass windows. He said the team-focused and cross-disciplinary approach has become a much larger part of science and engineering education than when the building was constructed in the 1960s.
The renovations would also give the school an opportunity to show off some its high-end equipment.
“It pulls the students into the work that’s being done… it allows us to put our state-of-the-art instrumentation on display,” Ainlay said. “It’s not so much that we have to make new investments [in equipment] —– although there will undoubtedly be some.”
Ainlay didn’t attach a dollar figure to the project but has said it was likely to be the most expensive project in the school’s history. While no capital campaign has been announced, fundraising for the project has begun “and it’s going to require a lot,” he said. He said he would like to see physical work begin on the project within the next five years.
Current students, who are unlikely to enjoy the benefits of the renovation before they graduate, on Tuesday offered suggestions for what planners should include as the facelift moves forward: more stockroom space, better lecture halls, more sustainability-focused elements, to name a few.
“I haven’t had any huge qualms,” sophomore biology major Kiprian Gernat said of the facility. “But the building could use some updating.”
Gernat said it would be nice to see updated lab space that offered opportunities for hands-on learning and lecture halls that were tailored to the specific needs of science classes. He said the college does a good job of keeping most of the widely-used equipment up to date but that it is always nice to see additions to the collection.
Freshman engineering student Sarah Taha said the layout of the building was confusing and could use improvement. She also pointed to higher-efficiency water fountains and other opportunities for improving sustainability.
“People get lost a lot,” Taha said of the layout.
Reach Gazette reporter Zachary Matson at 395-3120, [email protected] or @zacharydmatson on Twitter.
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