Serving the UMN community since 1900

The Minnesota Daily

Serving the UMN community since 1900

The Minnesota Daily

Serving the UMN community since 1900

The Minnesota Daily

Daily Email Edition

Get MN Daily NEWS delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday!


Campus overhaul

Editor’s Note: More than $400 million is earmarked to build and renovate numerous University facilities over the next several years, thanks to a 1998 captial budget windfall and private donations. This is the sixth in a 10-part series, ‘Reconstructing the U,’ detailing how the massive rejuvenation effort will affect every student, staff and faculty member in addition to reshaping the school’s physical appearance. Next Monday’s issue will explore renovations of University engineering facilities.

Melanie Evans
Don’t talk to Dr. Charles Moldow about transition. As the Medical School’s associate dean for research, ambiguity is written into his job description.
So is pressure.
And now the University’s ambitious plans to renovate the heart of the Medical School’s campus — four buildings off Washington Avenue — are tapping Moldow’s dexterity.
For the next three years, Moldow will operate from a make-shift office in a former locked psychiatric ward one block east of Jackson Hall. He will join the 500 faculty and staff scattering across campus while Jackson Hall — along with Owre Hall, Millard Hall and Lyon Laboratories — undergo radical construction.
Not that he’s complaining. For months, the doctor has endured the ear-splitting clamor of the construction crew outside his window.
When the dust finally settles, Jackson Hall, the oldest building on the medical campus, will be refurbished. The remaining three structures will be gone — demolished to clear room for the new $70 million Molecular and Cellular Biology Building due to be finished Jan. 1, 2001.
And Moldow’s job — attracting big money and top talent to the University — will have an impressive new selling point for visiting faculty, prospective students and the accreditation teams who evaluate the University’s medical programs.
If it gets done in time, that is.

Under the gun
Not that there’s any doubt the building will be completed on schedule, said Moldow. It must be done on time, he insisted with a smile. But he admits the three-year time-line leaves little room for error.
“It’s a tall order,” he said.
For now, administrators know little about the Molecular and Cellular Biology Building except the price tag, the deadline and the location.
Construction crews will squeeze the new building between the refurbished Jackson Hall and Moos Tower. The building will house laboratories for 60 scientists and 360 research staff. The remaining space will be dedicated to classrooms and teaching laboratories.
An architecture firm yet to be selected will begin the design in December. All faculty must be out of Owre Hall, Millard Hall and Lyon Laboratories by May 1999. Construction will begin the following month — to be completed 18 months later.
It is not just the calendar year Moldow is concerned about; scientists across campus are racing against the competition as faculty across the nation for a share of an unprecedented windfall Congress granted the National Institutes of Health for 1999.
The institutes received close to a 15 percent increase to their budget. The rise is a trend that is expected to continue for the next four years. The NIH awards 79 percent of federal funding for the nation’s basic and clinical research programs.
“I don’t want to miss that train,” Moldow said. “I don’t want our faculty to miss that train.”
The sooner faculty are settled, the sooner they can submit collaborative — and productive — grant applications, he said.
Close working relationships are key to fostering scientific discovery and to building a nationally recognized biology program, said College of Biological Science Dean Robert Elde.
This month, the University officially announced four new consolidated biology departments, integrating faculty from across the University. The building will house the consolidated biology programs.
“People need to be in same neighborhood,” he said. “Most of the best ideas are generated by the chance encounters around coffee cups.”
As it stands, a four-mile separation between faculty members in St. Paul and Minneapolis hinders the spontaneous and creative conversations that spur scientific discovery, Elde said. Distance divided the faculty members’ focus and resources like expensive equipment.
As they vie to rank among the nation’s elite science schools, administrators hope the momentum from the new building and the consolidated departments will spark national interest in the University, attracting top faculty and graduate students.
Without a demonstrated commitment, the University can’t compete with schools like Harvard and Yale to lure top faculty and graduate students to the program, Elde said. An investment in a new facility is a serious sign to potential applicants.
And it is not only top ranked universities Elde is worried about competing against, he said. Large pharmaceutical and agricultural companies are luring away the nation’s best biological scientists to develop new drugs or crops, he said.
“Biotechnology as an industry has been growing in fits and starts for the last 15 years,” Elde said.
Skeptics incorrectly doubted the field would secure a lasting foothold in the marketplace, he said.
“Its taken hold with a vengeance,” he added.

Anatomically incorrect
Administrators preserved Jackson Hall for its historical importance. Constructed in 1911 as the Anatomy Building, the edifice qualifies for the Campus’ Historical District that includes the South Mall.
But the building’s interior can no longer keep pace with the needs of biological science, according to a report submitted to the state Legislature in 1998. Older wiring, vents and pipes cannot support scientists who use hazardous materials or sophisticated equipment, the report states.
After construction, the building will be outfitted with “dry” laboratories for the Physiology, Gross Anatomy and Mortuary Science programs, three disciplines that require less technical support.
Renovation work on Jackson Hall began in August, the first step toward the new biology complex. A designer and a construction crew are working in tandem using a design-and-build model — a process devised to increase speed.
The technique involves architects simultaneously consulting faculty members and the construction firm as they move walls and lay new piping in the 87-year-old building.
Among the items slated for renovation during Jackson’s face-lift are new windows to replace the building’s paint-chipped original frames.
Remodeling the sixth floor and new walls throughout the building will complement the original floor tiling and wood salvaged for its historical value, said Lorelee Wederstrom, director of facilities management for the Academic Health Center. And if there is enough money in the budget, a shiny new copper top will replace the current corrugated metal roof.
Millard and Owre Halls hail from the same era as Jackson, but will not share the same fate. Built in 1911 and 1931 respectively, the two could not be gutted to keep pace with the demands of modern science, said Wederstrom.
Poor ventilation and awkward room sizes were a few of the constraints scientists could no longer work around, she said. The buildings’ shaky interiors fell short of several safety requirements, according to a reported submitted to the state Legislature in 1998.
Lyon Laboratories, built in 1951, is the last of the quadrangle of buildings at the core of the Medical campus. It shares the same difficult floor plans and bad ventilation as its neighbors. All three are slated for demolition in June, 1999.
Fewer walls will make the new buildings more “flexible,” Elde said. Graduate students and professors will share long communal lab benches, a practice already established in the Basic Science and Biomedical Engineering Building.
As research evolves, teams of scientists can shift along the bench to make room for additional people, or add equipment. Previously, scientists were segregated by walls, shut out from one another’s research; collaboration added up to commuting or moving a lab. Restricted access stymied creativity and cutting-edge development, Elde said.

Swing space
The transition promises to be a logistical rollercoaster as hundreds of faculty and millions of dollars in equipment traverse the campus in search of temporary housing — otherwise known as swing space.
For faculty and administrators, the rapidly-approaching deadline is a mixed blessing. The tight schedule offers administrators a concrete deadline; but at the same time, suspends nervous faculty in a nomadic state for almost three years.
The move puts an emphasis on timing: By incrementally relocating the buildings’ occupants, officials hope to minimize any disruption that might cause faculty to fall behind in their field.
Computers, office nick-nacks, entire laboratories, all of it will be packed up and shipped out to anywhere there is room.
Most faculty know their destinations: space eked out of rooms in Moos Tower, the Mayo Memorial Building or the Basic Sciences and Biomedical Engineering Building will house the displaced professors.
It will be a tight fit, said Moldow, who is helping direct the flow of faculty. It will be an uncomfortable three years, he added.
Three years is a long time to be uprooted in a field like scientific research, said Michel Sanders, an associate professor in Biochemistry, Molecular Biology and Biophysics.
Publishing new discoveries, which requires intense effort, is an essential element for winning highly-competitive grants, she said. Only 20 percent of grant applications submitted to the National Institutes of Health are funded.
“It’s very competitive. It’s very difficult to make a substantial impact without a lot of resources,” she said.
Sanders is one of a team of nine faculty members who study molecular and cellular biology in Millard Hall. Between Nov. 16 and Dec. 3 the group will move, one by one, to a smaller lab space in the second floor of Moos Tower.
Minnesota’s facilities were less modern and less attractive than other school’s when Sanders arrived at the University 12 years ago from the University of Washington.
Though the departments have made great improvements by investing in the latest technology, buildings on campus remain outdated. Poor ventilation and wood floors jeopardize the safety of staff and students working with hazardous material in the older labs.
She and her colleagues will transfer chemicals, glassware, books and reference materials to the underground lab. A special crew will relocate hazardous chemicals and radioactive material from one building to another.
Sanders is optimistic her transition will go as smoothly as it did for faculty in the $62.7 million Basic Science and Biomedical Engineering Building, completed in 1996.
And the long-term payoff is certainly worth the inconvenience of a smaller space and moving twice in three years, she said. She’ll cope with the changes.
“The idea is not to sweat the small stuff,” she said.

Leave a Comment

Accessibility Toolbar

Comments (0)

All The Minnesota Daily Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *