Interim President Tiku Majumder, center, and James Kolesar, assistant to the president for community and government affairs, in the lobby greeting visitors.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Dozens of residents and member of the Williams College community made their way through the brightly lit halls of the new South Science Building last week.
The $66 million structure that's been rising off Walden Street for nearly two years was opened to the public for two hours last Wednesday evening.
Faculty — and some students — are already making themselves at home in the building, which is still full of moving boxes as biology, chemistry, physics and geosciences relocate from the Bronfman Science Center.
"This building has been a lot of years in the planning with a wonderful team, led Rita [Coppala-Wallace, executive director of design and construction], by lots of faculty, students, staff," said the college's interim president, Protik "Tiku" Majumder, in between greeting visitors to the facility. "We came to this plan of kind of a two-building final configuration, with this being building No. 1. And now that we've all moved out of Bronfman Science Center into this lab and other spaces, that building will come down starting this summer."
The move into the new building began a few weeks ago as soon as it was certified for occupancy. The college expects to work out the kinks this summer — the summer science program has about 200 participants — and have the building ready for the fall semester.
Bronfman was built in the late 1960s, for $3.9 million at the time, but can no longer support the college's science departments. The plan is to construct two additions to the Unified Science Center with a south building on the Walden Street side and a north building where Bronfman is currently located. Both buildings will be connected by bridges to the Unified Science Center.
The south building, at 78,000 square feet, was designed by Payette Architects and built by Consigli Construction Co. under the direction of the college's owner's project manager Arcadis. The goal was to design for gold LEED standard.
The three-story building hosts physics and, temporarily, geosciences as well as sciences shops and microscopy on the lower levels and chemistry on the first level and biology on the second level.
The light-filled building offers spectacular views from the floor-to-ceiling glass cubbies on the corners, where students can meet and study, and wide hallways with blocks of color in turquoise, green and, of course, purple.
Labs and offices are broken up by equipment rooms and storage areas; classrooms will go into the new North Science Building once that is completed. There's only one classroom in the south building, a teaching laboratory on the south side that fits with the college's history.
Charles Lovett, the Philip and Dorothy Schein Professor of Chemistry and chair of the Bioinformatics, Genomics and Proteomics Program, leading a tour group of some two dozen, and said the first teaching laboratory was at instituted at Willliams in 1817.
The professor was Amos Eaton, a 1799 graduate, who'd read for the law but then used his time in prison for forgery to study natural sciences and chemistry.
"He's considered the founder of the modern scientific teaching method, which incorporates hands-on learning in laboratories," Lovett said.
Eaton's criminal past didn't sit well with the higher-ups though and he soon left — to found Rensselaer (N.Y.) Polytechnic Institute.
Majumder, also a physics professor and chairman of the Science Executive Committee, said requirements for state-of-the-art science buildings are probably changing faster than for other educational structures because of the advances being made in the technology.
"We've sort of separated out all the needs for the next generations of Williams science faculty and students into two different buildings and we're excited that we've completed the first half of the project," he said. "I've been very involved in a lot of the conversations around the planning of this building in my previous role as director of the Science Center before I took this little intermediate six-month stint in the president's office.
"So it's exciting to be thinking now of coming back to my role as a scientist and professor."
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