Integrated Sciences Building opens for classes

By Ben Williams

P.J. Stanley / Collegian

Another step in the wave of building projects on campus has been completed, as the $92 million Integrated Sciences Building opened for classes this semester.

The building, located between the Worcester Dining Hall and the Morill Science Center, is a state-of-the-art facility in nearly every respect, from the use of Green technology to the auditorium projection system to the laboratory design. The building will be the new home for undergraduate chemistry, biology and animal science classes, as well as some research labs.

The building is the end product of years of collaboration and input from science professors across campus. When creating the space, designers paid attention to streamlining according to the needs of professors and students.

For example: ‘In Morill you used to have to push a cart down hall, down elevator, then down another hall,’ said Biology Lab Coordinator Kate Dorfman. ‘Now there are prep rooms next to every lab.’
‘The building is pretty much what we asked for,’ said senior chemistry lecturer Thom Whalen, ‘now it’s up to us to use it.’

The four-story tall building encompasses 155,000 square feet. While it looks relatively plain from the side facing North Pleasant Street, the modern style of the building is evident from when you first step inside the door, and the back side of the building faces a landscaped courtyard. There are windows and natural lighting everywhere, which gives the building a very open feeling

‘There are a lot of green elements in the building,’ said Jim Hunt, communications manager for Facilities and Campus Planning, like ‘reusing rain water, in cooling systems instead of running it off. Heat exchanges and ventilation systems are super efficient and state-of-the-art.’

Hunt also noted the use of passive solar in the building, which has a south-facing solarium and the extensive use of materials like bamboo, which have great longevity and are eco-friendly.

The centerpiece of the building is its technologically advanced 300-seat auditorium. It was designed to seem much smaller than it actually is. Instead of the tight, cramped spaces in some large lecture halls on campus, each seat has plenty of arm and leg room. Each seat also has its own power outlet and internet hook-up. The room features dual projectors, which can be split into four screens if necessary, in addition to more traditional chalkboards. There is a close-up camera at the instructors table that can project an experiment going on at the front of the room, or a close up of instructors notes.

There is another classroom that seats 85 and incorporates a number of the same spacing and technological elements.

Whalen obviously takes a lot of pride in the new building.

‘What large research university has a building just for students?’ he said. ‘This is not a building that was built for something else and then renovated for students.’

‘Before, if you were giving a friend a tour of the chemistry department, there may have been parts you tried to gloss over, but not now,’ said Whalen.

The high-tech equipment is good news for students, who will be learning to use instruments currently used in research laboratories in professional settings.

Dorfman said where she used to have one set-up in one room to teach ‘sterile technique’ to biology students, she now has four in a single room. There are also advanced imagine laboratories and other specialized microscopes.

The lab spaces also feature a number of updates designed to make the best use of the space. The labs contain the same basic element as those in Goessman and the Lederle Graduate Research Tower, but have been redesigned to make the space seem much smaller than it actually is.

But integrated does not just mean chemistry and biology in one building, the professors are just as excited about collaboration across departments.

‘I hope the fact we’re across the hall creates collaboration that was
completely impossible before,’ said Dorfman. ‘Before if you had an idea and needed to talk to someone in the chemistry department you could call them up, but now you can just walk across the hall.’

Whalen was equally excited about the prospect of integration.

In addition to advanced laboratory spaces, there are a number of places around the building with couches and rugs where students can take a break and relax. There will even be a cafeteria space in the central area of the building that will serve coffee and some food.

‘We’re hoping that if you did have a class here you might come here anyways,’ said Whalen.

The building still has six to eight weeks before the contractors have completely cleared out, and departments will be moving in to the building throughout the semester, said Hunt.

The new biology lab has adjustable height tables, which Dorfman says will be useful since anticipating the needs of the future is not always possible. The lab also has new microscopes and 24-inch iMac computers. The new setup will allow biology students to create online portfolios of their work.

The prospect for the future uses of the building are still forming, but Whalen was eager to explain what you can do at the Integrated Sciences Building that could not be done before at the UMass

‘Dream it,’ he said.

Ben Williams can be reached at [email protected]