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What you need to know for 11/24/2017

UAlbany seek $20M to turn old school into engineering college


UAlbany seek $20M to turn old school into engineering college

University at Albany officials and city leaders have big dreams for the old Albany High School — the
UAlbany seek $20M to turn old school into engineering college
The Schuyler Building at University at Albany will be the new home to the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences at 135 Western Ave. in Albany.
Photographer: Peter R. Barber

University at Albany officials and city leaders have big dreams for the old Albany High School — the Schuyler Building on the university’s downtown campus — that come with a $20 million price tag.

The university plans on making the building the new home of its nascent College of Engineering and Applied Sciences, promised to be a keystone in the university’s push to become one of the nation’s leading research universities.

On Tuesday, UAlbany President Robert Jones, with community and business leaders and elected officials standing behind him, called on the Legislature to include $20 million in this year’s budget for the first stage of the building’s overhaul.

“There is nothing we can talk about, nothing, that is more critical to the future of this university than the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences,” Jones said during an event Tuesday at the old school. “This is a game-changer for this great university.”

Jones and a bevy of state lawmakers and Albany officials said the rehabbed school would help drive economic development and neighborhood revitalization in downtown Albany. It would also serve as a center of community activity, with the university preserving the building’s 1,000-seat auditorium, and help tie the main campus, law school, Sage Colleges and The College of Saint Rose into a major “economic and academic corridor.”

“Think of the power of an economic and academic corridor that stretches from Sage Colleges . . . to right here,” Albany Medical Center President and CEO Jim Barba said. “That’s hard to find in any city, and we have it right here.”

Jones, Barba and others also pointed to the importance of educating students for the technology and engineering jobs of the future.

The University at Albany purchased the building — constructed in 1912 and serving as a high school until 1974 — from the Albany City School District for $2 million in 2013. The $20 million request would be Phase 1 of what is expected to be $60 million project. The Legislature has already funded $4 million for planning and design.

John Giarrusso, UAlbany’s associate vice president for facilities management, said the $20 million would let the school get about one-third of the school ready for student use, with construction slated to start by the end of 2017 if the funding was approved this year. Planning, design and construction of Phase 1 would take about four years, Giarrusso said.

Once complete, Schuyler would house 127,000 square feet of classroom, research and office space. That’s enough room for over 1,000 students and 180 faculty and researchers at the undergraduate and graduate levels. The college would be outfitted with state-of-the-art lab spaces and research facilities, university officials said.

UAlbany won’t be the only game in the region once their new science and engineering school is running at full speed. Union College and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, both private, have nationally recognized science and engineering programs. Speakers at Tuesday’s event didn’t mention the two schools by name but alluded to the value of a public and more affordable school establishing a research-focused program.

Jones said he spoke with leaders from both private colleges over two years ago, spelling out the university’s plans for developing its own science and engineering school.

“Those are very fine, highly selective programs and there was mutual agreement that there is a need for a public option in engineering in the Capital Region,” Jones said. “We’re not looking at it as competition; it’s about filling a critical need.”

Jones pointed to the appointment of Kim Boyer as the college’s dean as an important first step to attracting top-flight talent to the program’s faculty. Boyer is the former head of the Department of Electrical, Computer and Systems Engineering at RPI.

“What we don’t have at this point is legacy,” Boyer said. “But we do have potential and there is a certain caliber of person who is interested in coming to build something.”

Reach Gazette reporter Zachary Matson at 395-3120, or @zacharydmatson on Twitter.

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