By Sam Gringlas, Daily Staff Reporter
Published October 3, 2013
Biologists, hold on to your lab coats.
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Plans for a brand new biology building on Central Campus are underway and will likely come before the Board of Regents for approval sometime this fall.
The project — first reported by the Ann Arbor News — will provide a new facility for the University’s programs in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology, sources close to the planning process said. These programs are currently housed in in the aging Kraus Natural Science Building adjacent to the Diag and Ruthven Museums Building on North University Avenue, which currently hosts the Natural History Museum.
Prof. Robert Denver, associate chair of research and facilities for the Department Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology, confirmed the project in an interview on Thursday. He said the University began seeking input from faculty in town-hall-style meetings over the summer.
After an initial information-gathering period, the University has started meeting with architects to discuss more concrete plans for the project.
Denver said the plan would likely call for open-concept lab spaces. Though open-bench layouts are typically used for biomedical research labs, Denver said the concept would likely serve the diverse faculty of the department well.
“The current building is a very old building,” Denver said. “We’ve been in it for 98 years and haven’t really received any significant renovations in that time. Things are falling apart. It’s very difficult to do modern, life-science research in this building.”
Former LSA dean Terrence McDonald, who first initiated discussion on a new biology facility during his deanship, said the University has been considering the project conceptually for the past few years.
McDonald added that the project was important because the two biology departments train a significant number of students in LSA and the current facility was hindering the recruitment of top-tier faculty.
“They wanted a facility that encouraged interdisciplinary research, that was able to house cutting-edge equipment and had the space for students to become deeply engaged in the research enterprise,” McDonald said.
Though planning is well underway, administration must still seek approval from the University’s Board of Regents, who must first approve the project and later a schematic plan for the building’s design. Denver could not confirm an official timeline, but said it’s likely the plan will be presented this fall and schematic designs released in the spring.
The University, however, has yet to officially announce plans for a new biology building. University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald declined to comment on the existence of such a project.
Speaking on behalf of the University as well as several administrators contacted for this article, Fitzgerald said the University could not discuss any specific capital projects prior to their approval.
Generally, Fitzgerald said planners of potential projects first engage in thorough research and secure appropriate funding before presenting proposals to the regents.
Additionally, planners must carefully consider a new facility’s location, specifically to ensure it fits with the University’s master plan for Central Campus.
Denver declined to confirm University sites in consideration, Denver said an ideal location would be in close proximity to the Undergraduate Science Building, which houses many classes taught in the biology department. He also said neither the Kraus Building or the Ruthven Exhibits Building would be likely torn down.
He noted that the only feasible spot nearby is the site of North Hall, the current ROTC building, which last month was slated for demolition.
“That’s right next to the Undergraduate Science Building and there is no other place right next to it,” Denver said.