Coleman outlines need for lab space

By Jennifer Calfas, Daily Staff Reporter
Published October 14, 2013

Though its home in North Hall will likely be razed, the University’s ROTC program will live on.


Click on the image to see North Hall as it appeared in 1940 — complete with a naval gun in the front lawn. Photo from the Bentley Historical Library collections.

At the monthly meeting of the University’s Board of Regents on Friday, the regents will consider a project to renovate space in several buildings to accommodate the relocation the University’s Army, Navy and Air Force Reserve Officers’ Training Corps offices from North Hall.

Once the project is approved, another request will be made to demolish North Hall to make way for new construction, according to a communication to the regents by Tim Slottow, the University’s executive vice president and chief financial officer.

Slottow wrote that ROTC personnel will be spread across the Chemistry Building, Willard Henry Dow Laboratory and the Ruthven Museums Building. The approximately 15,000 square feet of office space renovated for the program’s use will include administrative functions, physical fitness rooms and student commons in the Chemistry Building and Dow Laboratory.

Approximately 6,000 square feet of the Ruthven Museums Building will provide classrooms and storage for the military training program.

Funded by investment proceeds, the renovation project will cost $4 million, and will be designed by architectural firm SmithGroupJJR — a contractor used frequently by the University. The project is slated for completion in spring 2014 and will provide 19 on-site construction jobs.

Reports of North Hall’s imminent demolition to make way for a new science building surfaced last month, when faculty and students said the project is still in the planning process. University spokesperson Rick Fitzgerald declined to comment at the time because no project has been formally presented or approved by the regents.

University President Mary Sue Coleman said Monday that the Chemistry Building, North Hall, the Kraus Natural Science Building and the Ruthven Museums Building are in need of renovation to better accommodate the modern needs of the biology and museum programs. Moving the ROTC is apparently the first step in preparing for more major construction and renovation projects.

She added that providing better biology laboratory space is now a top facilities priority for the University. The Kraus Natural Science building — although beautiful on the outside — cannot house biology research laboratories.

“We’ve sort of taken it and pushed it to its limits,” Coleman said.

Since North Hall is in a preferable location, it will be a part of the larger construction plan, Coleman said. Although it’s not yet clear what North Hall’s location will hold in the future, Coleman said the University is working to renovate these buildings so they will be able to house the advanced systems necessary for modern research.

Some concrete plans for renovations and construction will be finalized this academic year, though the projects will be sequenced over time.

“We don’t want to make a mistake because these dollars are too precious to do something that isn’t well thought out,” Coleman said.

Coleman added that the North Campus Research Complex was not a suitable location for teaching facilities or biology laboratories — even as a flex location during the construction process.

According to sources close to the project planning, the project to construct a new biology laboratory space in North Hall’s current location will provide a new facility for the University’s programs in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology. These two programs are currently located in the Kraus Natural Science Building and the Ruthven Museums Building — both close to North Hall.

Biology Prof. Robert Denver, associate chair of research and facilities for the Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology, confirmed the North Hall renovation project earlier this month.

If the building will hold this purpose, Denver said the plan will likely include open-concept lab spaces that could serve the biology and other science departments.

“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.”

Originally constructed in 1899 through 1900 as a 140-bed homeopathy hospital, North Hall has served a variety of functions during its time as a campus building.

After the Homeopathic Medical College was discontinued by the University in 1922, the building served as an extension of the main University Hospital. Shortly before the United States entered World War II, the building was given over to the Navy ROTC for office space and training purposes. It has been an ROTC facility ever since.

Since its construction, North Hall has been dwarfed by the nearby Dentistry Building, Chemistry Building and, more recently, the Life Sciences Building.

In 2003, University officials were considering renovation plans for the dilapidated structure, as its foundations had been damaged by nearby construction projects. As recently as 2011, the regents approved a $1.3-million renovation for the building, focused on infrastructure systems and accessibility.

University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said last month that the North Hall demolition plans have been developing for some time. Although he could not include details about the timeline of the construction or the purpose of the renovated space, Fitzgerald said the project “will try to solve multiple problems on campus.”

Daily News Editor Peter Shahin and Daily Staff Reporters Sam Gringlas and Ariana Assaf contributed to this report.