UMass starts design on new science building

A digital rendering of the Campus Center at UMass-Boston with the proposed science building in the background. Courtesy of UMass-Boston

Now that Gov. Deval Patrick has signed the $2.2 billion higher education bond bill - $125 million of which will go for improvements at the UMass-Boston campus - college administrators are hot to trot to begin transforming the 70s-era Columbia Point campus that is often referred to as a 'fortress' or a 'prison.'

First on tap is the design and construction of a new academic building, a 250,000 square foot "integrated science complex," as well as a stabilization of the campus's, leaky, crumbling sub-structure, shut down in July 2006.

The substructure's imminent demise was somewhat of a spark for the 25-year UMass-Boston Master Plan that has been in development during Chancellor Keith Motley's reign at the school, according to Ellen O'Connor, vice-chancellor of administration and finance.

The original estimate to repair the structure, which includes a parking garage, was $160 million. The other option was to bolster it to last another 10 years for $25 million, and then devise a plan to do away with it. The school chose plan B, and will put the stabilization project out to bid in the fall. The structure would then come down within those ten years in the first phase of the master plan.

The new bond bill included $25 million for the stabilization work, along with $100 million for the new science building, which is expected to raise the school's profile as a research center.

"It's really devoted to lab space in traditional academic departments like chemistry, biology, psychiatry, nursing, that need serious lab experience," said O'Connor. "There are also many multi-disciplinary academic pursuits that will use the space."

The school designated Goody Clancy as the architect for the new building, a Boston-based firm that designed the Graduate Center at Simmons College, the Yawkey Student Center at Emmanuel College and several other edifices around the state. Chan Krieger Sieniewicz, an esteemed local urban design and architecture firm with extensive waterfront experience across the country, is consulting on the yet-to-be-completed master plan. A new round of community meetings on that subject is tentatively scheduled for the fall.

The new science building would be situated between the schools most recent building, the Campus Center, and the JFK Library & Museum, putting a modern face on the campus's eastern side. The design work, said O'Connor, is expected to be complete by 2010, and the construction done by 2013 along with a second, general academic building due to be funded by the state in 2009.

"Science buildings are extremely complicated and challenging," said O'Connor. "They are the most challenging to build which is why we decided to do it first."

The two, 1000-bed dormitory buildings in the draft master plan, which have raised some controversy in surrounding neighborhoods, would begin design and construction some five to 10 years from now, said DeWayne Lehman, UMass spokesman.

"It may be that the order of things get changed," Lehman warned of the draft master plan. "We haven't built an academic building in 35 years, so there's a real consensus that that needs to get done, but other things could get moved around."