Remodel spurs two-year takeover of polo field

Nancy Ngo

Bike poloists will need to find a new space to play because Facilities Management set up shop for two years on the impromptu polo field behind the Washington Avenue Ramp.
Temporary offices occupy the parcel of land as a Facilities Management team makes way for a $22.8 million remodeling project of the old electrical engineering building.
The project was prompted by a need for more laboratory space to conduct field work such as a national competition to build the most efficient solar-powered car. To increase the amount of lab space for mechanical engineering students, department leaders began a long-term campaign to remodel the old electrical engineering building along Church Street.
After 10 years of planning, the first group to leave the building will be the Facilities Management team, which is vacating its storage space to make way for remodeling and additions.
Next, students and faculty could be displaced as early as May for asbestos removal to begin.
Those from the Department of Mechanical Engineering use the old electrical engineering building primarily for student labs and offices. In the last few years, the department’s administrators have slowly moved classes elsewhere in lieu of the upcoming project. Still, the nearing of the project might prevent a comfortable move.
The biggest challenge for the mechanical engineering department is where to put 80 graduate and research assistants that need office space. The conclusion of Dr. James Ramsey, associate department head and professor in mechanical engineering, is that there isn’t any room. Students will have to move into already-occupied offices in the electrical engineering and computer science building.
“We’re going to have to crowd together,” Ramsey said. “We’re already jammed in every corner and it’s even going to get more packed.”
Although the department will suffer under space constraints for the next two years until the building is finished, Ramsey said he is excited about a project the mechanical engineering program has needed for years.
The engineering department isn’t the only group in need of more space. The Facilities Management team will use a portion of the renovated space for its central operations.
“We’ve been putting up with some serious shortages of space for several years,” said Keith Passow, facilities manager for the Institute of Technology zone. The Facilities Management locations currently sprawl across eight different sites on campus.
The remodeling project was first proposed in 1987. In 1994, the Legislature agreed to pay $13 million of project costs. The plan calls for tearing down more than 75 percent of the current electrical engineering building to make way for new lab spaces. The rest will be devoted to classroom space for the mechanical engineering department.
With enrollment nearly doubling since the 1970s, officials in the Department of Mechanical Engineering have been looking for new space options, said Eric Kautzman, development director for the Institute of Technology. Last year, the department boasted 724 undergraduate students — the largest enrollment numbers in the college.
However, the reconstructed space is more a reaction to keep pace with the new technology emerging in the last 10 years.
“The real reason is the need for new facilities,” Kautzman said. By the project’s completion, there will be additional computer labs to replace the once-dominating class and lecture rooms.
Ramsey said the students who use lab space, the main occupants of the old electrical engineering building, will be affected the most. “I don’t think the students that are taking classes will see very much of an impact.”
Those using computer labs in the building this quarter will also have to relocate. But Ramsey said he hopes classes requiring laboratory work will be completed before the remodeling so that students are not inconvenienced, he said.
“If we time this right, students will not know they’re being moved,” he said.