Science building on schedule, on budget

The new state-of-the-art building is a beacon on the bluffs of the Mississippi River.

Construction on the new Science Teaching and Student Services Building will be complete in time for the fall semester.

Construction on the new Science Teaching and Student Services Building will be complete in time for the fall semester.

Kyle Potter

The differences between this building and its predecessor couldnâÄôt be clearer. The plain architecture and confusing stairwells of the Science Classroom Building were torn down in the winter of 2009 to make way for a new state-of-the-art building âÄî a beacon on the bluffs of the Mississippi River. Nineteen months after demolition, the sleek new building will be open to University of Minnesota students in September. The Science Teaching and Student Services building looks nearly complete from the outside, but the paint is still drying inside as workers shift their focus inward on the stairwells, walls and electrical systems. The $72.5 million building will play host to science classes and One Stop services when it opens this fall, and its design is meant to reflect its dual purpose. The building was designed by University of Minnesota alumnus William Pedersen from the New York-based architecture firm Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates. Phillip White, project manager for the building construction from KPF, said the design was inspired by its unique location on the bank of the Mississippi, among other things. âÄúThe nature of how the Mississippi flows through was a strong driver for all the fluid forms in the building,âÄù he said. The siteâÄôs proximity to Weisman Art Museum was a strong influence too, White said. The building draws on the exterior of the museum but is meant to be a smoother counterpart to the WeismanâÄôs rigid planes. White said he was pleased by the progress that had been made when he visited the construction site Wednesday. Throughout his work ensuring that construction is on-budget and on-schedule, he said KPFâÄôs relationship with the University has been great. âÄúWhatâÄôs been really good is the feedback and interaction weâÄôve had with the student services and classroom group to develop a unique building for two different populations of the campus,âÄù he said. Inside the STSS building there will be 10 âÄúactive learningâÄù classrooms, which are meant for smaller, more intimate classes. There will be open walls for displays that students can link laptops to as they sit in groups at circular tables. âÄúItâÄôs a whole new teaching paradigm, which is one of the reasons this building was built,âÄù Justin Grussing, director of the University Capital Planning and Project Management department, said of these classrooms. There will also be 17 multipurpose classrooms that house between 80 to 120 students and two larger lecture halls. The old building had four large lecture halls. Professor Ken Leopold said the building looks great from the outside, but he is concerned that losing two lecture halls will be a challenge. His general chemistry classes of about 300 students fit perfectly into the lecture halls of the old building, and he said he isnâÄôt sure how to break those classes up to fit into the smaller classrooms. Bill Tolman, chair of the chemistry department, said he and his colleagues share that concern. Tolman acknowledged that the old building was not good looking, but he lamented the loss of its lecture halls. âÄúThe classrooms themselves were actually quite functional,âÄù he said. âÄúI actually enjoyed teaching in them quite a bit.âÄù While the STSS building has been under construction, many professors moved their classes to Smith Hall or across the river to Anderson Hall, which Tolman said has been inconvenient. Chemistry room assignments have not yet been made for next semester, but he speculated that some classes may remain on the West Bank campus because of the shortage. A âÄòsignature buildingâÄô When Grussing talks about the STSS building, he makes a clear distinction between its two components: the classic brick architecture and the circular glass surface. It was important that the building fit within the context of Pleasant Street, a street dominated by reddish-brown brick. But the STSS building sticks out from the surrounding buildings. It isnâÄôt generic, but is a âÄúsignature building,âÄù Grussing said. âÄúIt is a workhorse of a building, but itâÄôs also intended to have a presence about it,âÄù he said. Of the $72.5 million budget, $52 million was spent on demolition of the old Science Classroom Building and the STSS building construction, Grussing said. About $17 million will be used for what Grussing called âÄúsoft costsâÄù like furnishings, televisions and artwork. Rather than install an independent heating and cooling system for the building, $3.5 million was spent to route the system from Smith Hall underneath Pleasant Street. Grussing said the University is trying to use district systems like this when possible, but it created problems as they fought for credits in the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System. LEED doesnâÄôt consider district systems like these when giving credit to energy efficient buildings, Grussing said. Despite that trouble, he said he is confident the STSS building will be awarded LEED Gold certification when the building is completed. Mark Adamson, project manager from the on-site construction company McGough, said 94 percent of the materials used have been recycled, and part of the foundation from the old building was used. From the demolition in January 2009 through the end of February, more than 20,000 workers have been on site with an average of 100 workers per day, according to McGough records. Total completion is scheduled for Aug. 31. Science as art A sculptor will soon join the cast of workers at the building. Alexander Tylevich will begin building an enormous sculpture in just a few days. Using an array of stainless steel cables, it will be suspended from the ceiling skylight and will stretch to the bottom floor, surrounded by a staircase, he said. âÄúIt will accommodate the entire space. It will speak the same language,âÄù he said. To aid in speaking the language of the architecture, Tylevich will use dichroic glass, a glass that changes color as one walks around it, along with stainless steel spirals and a pattern of LED lights. He said PedersenâÄôs design made his work much easier because it provided a clear scientific concept. He said the building will be âÄúone of the best on campus.âÄù University junior Tyler Schiffmann said that although itâÄôs not completed yet, it looks much better from the outside than the Science Classrooms Building, which he called âÄúdark and gloomy.âÄù âÄúIt was one of the last places I wanted to go take a class,âÄù he said of the building where he took classes his first and sophomore years. As a nutritional science major, many of SchiffmannâÄôs classes are in St. Paul, but he hopes to have at least one class in the new building come fall. âÄúItâÄôs always nice to get into a new building and be the first class to break it in.âÄù