As plans for more campus construction are finalized, University biology researchers look forward to migrating from their nearly century-old buildings to new facilities better equipped for modern research.
The E.H. Kraus Natural Sciences Building and Ruthven Museums Building, both of which are almost a century old, house researchers in the departments of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology, as well as Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, which includes departments in the Museum of Natural History.
The age of these buildings poses both infrastructural and design problems to the researchers assigned to those laboratory spaces — problems that should be alleviated by the construction of a new $261 million building on Central Campus, slated for completion in 2019. The project was approved by the University’s Board of Regents in February.
Biology Prof. Robert Denver said he has experienced multiple issues due to the Kraus Building’s failing infrastructure.
“I’ve had my lab flooded a few times from water leaks on the floor above me, which destroyed equipment,” he said. “Also, water accumulating in the ceilings led to a large mold problem that we had recently where we had to essentially decontaminate the entire building.”
Biology Prof. Deborah Goldberg said the upgrades necessary to prepare spaces for new faculty members have become excessive.
“It’s just not a modern science building,” she said. “Every time we get a new faculty member, we need to update their lab. And it costs a ridiculous amount of money just to get it ready for somebody to do work in.”
Goldberg said frequent issues requiring extensive renovation include floors without the load-bearing capacity to support equipment, electrical and plumbing systems unable to support the labs and air systems inadequately circulating air containing the harsh chemicals used in labs.
In addition to infrastructure problems, the current designs of Kraus and Ruthven keep labs isolated from each other. The new building’s design will emphasize an open-lab concept to foster a sharing of ideas, resources and methods by situating professors’ labs in “research neighborhoods” based on overlapping interests.
“We don’t have that serendipity that comes because you run into somebody, and all of a sudden you’re drawing on the whiteboard — there are no places to do that,” Goldberg said. “The current buildings were designed in a different era of science. Science is now a much more collaborative process.”
Goldberg said the building would not only have open labs in the new building, but there also might be visible labs so students and members of the public can get a glimpse of what research looks like.
A large active-learning classroom would also help students become more actively engaged in their learning experience. Moveable structures, group tables instead of auditorium-style seating and technology that will allow groups of students to share their work with their classes are all proposed measures to improve the quality of teaching and learning.
The new building will allow these measures to be more fully integrated with the departments that make up the Museum of Natural History, such as the Museums of Zoology and Paleontology.
Amy Harris, director of the Museum of Natural History, cited the multipurpose nature of the new building — as well as the addition of air-conditioning — as improvements sure to impact the experience of museum guests.
“It’ll be a fantastic and pretty unique opportunity for museum-goers not just to learn about science and natural history, but also to learn about the process of research and discovery,” she said