President Shirley Ann Jackson announced during the 2008 Spring Town Meeting that the Institute is beginning the first steps in replacing, expanding, and renovating the existing Jonsson-Rowland Science Center. The Science Center was constructed in 1961 and combines the names of John Erik Jonsson ’22, one of Rensselaer’s most generous benefactors, and Henry A. Rowland 1870, a physicist and the first president of the American Physical Society. Due to the age of the building it faces much deferred maintenance, which the renovation is estimated to reduce by $20 million.
The New Center for Science will be adjacent and connected to the existing Science Center, providing an additional 100,000 to 120,000 square feet of laboratory space for both undergraduate education and research. The new facilities will serve as wet laboratories for biology and physics, while the existing facilities will be renovated for offices, academic programs, classrooms, dry labs, and conference space. The new facilities will house the wet laboratories because the renovation of the existing facilities for the required ventilation is impractical. The construction of the center will also allow the many scattered departments to relocate, including the Department of Biology from the Materials Research Center (MRC) to Walker Lab, the Department of Chemical Engineering from Ricketts to MRC, and the Department of Decision Sciences and Engineering Systems from the Center for Industrial Innovation to Ricketts.
In addition to the renovation of the Science Center, the Hirsch Observatory, located on the roof of the Science Center, will be updated. The observatory finished construction in 1942 and was refurbished in 2006. The 2006 refurbishment included restoring the control system and electronics and collimating the telescope for a total of $70,000.
This fall, a planning team will be compiled with faculty from the School of Science. The team will help plan what needs to be included for facilities in the new Science Center. This initial planning, as well as the architectural planning, is estimated to take between three and five years. Vice President for Administration Claude Rounds explained that this project “affects decisions we will be making to go forward in the future.”
The building is designed to coordinate with the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center and the South Campus Master Plan. The architecture of the building will include a glass atrium, connecting the existing facilities with the new center.
Rounds described that by implementing an atrium, the existing windows of the Science Center can remain, providing natural light, similar to the setup in the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies.
The project is in the early stages of planning, in which an overall cost is difficult to determine; however, Rounds estimated that the total cost for new construction and renovation will be approximately $70 to $75 million.