Old Chem set for renovations, new biology building to be constructed

April 30, 2013, 11:54 p.m.

The University has moved forward with plans to renovate the historic Old Chemistry (Old Chem) Building and construct a new Bass Biology Building, with both projects expected to be completed by the 2016-17 academic year.

Though the Office of Development has already solicited initial donations for both projects, which are currently in the planning stages, additional donors are still being sought. According to Senior Development Writer and Editor Anneke Cole, gifts are confidential between the donor and the University, and the origins and size of each donation will not be released.


Renovating Old Chem

In his annual report to the Academic Council on April 18, President John Hennessy referred to the Old Chemistry building as an “architectural treasure,” and noted that renovating Old Chem had long been one of his goals.

The renovation of Old Chem will allow for more advanced research and experiments among students and faculty through converting the building into an undergraduate science center for both the chemistry and biology departments.

Plans for the future of Old Chem have been debated for decades, as the building has been unused and fenced off since 1987.

According to Director of the Department of Project Management Laura Goldstein, the building was initially closed because it did not meet seismic standards. While other buildings on campus were rebuilt following the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989, Old Chem remained vacant.

Even so, the building will be renovated rather than torn down due to its historical and aesthetic significance. Commissioned by Jane Lathrop in 1900, the building is currently one of the oldest on campus and one of the few dating from before the 1906 earthquake.

According to Robert Simoni, chair of the department of biology, the renovation will benefit the department in “every possible way.” Currently, about 400 students take biology classes each year in the Herrin Building, which Simoni described as “outdated and compromised.”

“There are some kinds of experiments we can’t do because the place doesn’t have fume hoods and so on,” Simoni said. “A new Old Chem will allow us to modernize our undergraduate teaching labs, which frankly is long overdue, and we are very excited about that.”


Bass Biology Building

Plans for the construction of a new biology research building, which will provide additional laboratory space, began in 2007. Plans were put on hold after the 2008 financial crisis, before a donation from the Bass family restarted the initiative.

According to Simoni, the University is still seeking donors for the building, to meet the entire cost.

After construction is completed, many biology research faculty members currently working in Herrin will move to laboratories in the new Bass building. According to Goldstein, the building will be located adjacent to the Mudd Chemistry Building.

The University has chosen an architect for the renovation of the Old Chem building, and plans to select an architect for the Bass building by May. In his address to the Faculty Senate, Hennessy said that construction on the Bass building should “begin shortly.”

Simoni emphasized that the creation of a new building has become more necessary to offer more advanced research, and said that a renovation of Herrin Hall would not provide adequate improvements.

“Faculty that are moving into the Bass Biology building are coming from the Herrin research building — [which was] first occupied in 1957 — and there are lots of things that can’t be done in that building,” Simoni said. “Renovations of the space would be exceedingly expensive and compromise the quality. The building was not built for modern day research.”

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