Professors brace for construction

Science professors are working with University officials to ensure construction for the GW Museum does not disturb sensitive laboratory equipment and lectures in neighboring Corcoran Hall.

The construction, which is expected to last from late summer to spring 2014, will result in a new 7,000 square foot building in the southwest corner of University Yard next to Corcoran Hall. The Woodhull House will transform from the University Police Department headquarters as part of the $22 million project that unites the cross-town Textile Museum with artifacts from GW’s history.

Professors who sit on the Faculty Senate’s Physical Facilities Committee have a special concern about the effects of jackhammers and drills on Corcoran Hall, which holds physics and chemistry classrooms and laboratories just north of the construction site.

“People in physics, chemistry and biology are very concerned that jackhammers are going to go off in the middle of the class, and very sensitive instruments get disturbed by these vibrations,” professor Hermann Helgert, chair of the nine-member committee, said.

Plans were unveiled a year ago, after collector and real estate developer Albert H. Small donated $5 million and his collection of historical city relics to GW. A staircase on the south side of Corcoran will be relocated east to make way for the four-story museum’s loading dock. Construction workers will also drill underground for the two below-grade floors of the museum.

The disruption comes at a bad time for science professors, chemistry department chair Michael King said. Departments may have to juggle facility concerns for two years as they gear up to move to the Science and Engineering Hall in 2015, he said.

“The frustration is one of timing. The concept of the collection is wonderful, and a museum for GW is great, but the timing is terrible,” King said.

A chemical storage room in the basement of Corcoran Hall must find a new location, King said, and instruments like scanning electron microscopes in nearby Bell Hall are vulnerable to construction vibrations.

Michael Wagner, an associate professor of chemistry, will need to move his federally funded research on nanoscale materials from its room in the Corcoran Hall basement.

“Inevitably, there will be disruptions to federally supported research and the teaching programs currently in Corcoran,” King said.

Bill Briscoe, the director of the undergraduate physics program and a member of the physical facilities committee, said noise from the construction would likely disturb lecture hall offices for faculty and graduate students.

“I’m loud enough to be heard in that lecture hall no matter what, but some instructors have said that they haven’t been able to be heard by the students,” Briscoe said.

Senior Associate Vice President for Operations Alicia Knight said an “ongoing dialogue” would be key to a smooth construction process and that the University has taken steps to mitigate potential issues.

She added that the University has rescheduled drilling to accommodate the schedules of researchers and faculty and switched to different drilling techniques to reduce vibration and noise.

“Additional opportunities will also arise as this project proceeds and will be pursued to ensure impacts are limited to the fullest extent possible,” Knight said.

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