Science and Engineering Hall opening prompts class shuffle

Media Credit: Hatchet File Photo by Nicole Radivivlov | Contributing Photo Editor

Updated: Sept. 26, 2014 at 9:57 a.m.

The University will renovate Tompkins, Corcoran and Bell halls, repurposing lab space to make room for classes previously held off campus.

The Science and Engineering Hall will open a month earlier than expected, the University announced this week, and classes will begin there next semester. The opening jumpstarts a backfill process that officials have planned for years, with space opening up in labs and classrooms across campus as science and engineering classes move into the new building.

Forrest Maltzman, senior vice provost for academic affairs and planning, said the former home of the engineering school, Tompkins Hall, will undergo renovations and house classes that GW used to hold at off-campus locations like 1776 G St. and 2020 K St. Bell and Corcoran halls, which have housed life science classes, will also undergo renovations.

He declined to detail the scope of the construction or estimate a timeline.

“Bell, Corcoran and Tompkins all have labs that will need to be repurposed, which will require some renovations,” Maltzman said. “But, we do not have an update on renovations, including possible timelines, for backfill spaces.”

The $275 million Science and Engineering Hall was originally slated to open during the spring semester. Construction nearly faced a delay after Truland Systems, an electrical company that the project’s contractor Clark Construction had hired, filed for bankruptcy.

The University already committed $13.2 million to upgrade Corcoran, Bell and Tompkins halls in 2012. Those projects were expected to cost $3 million each year over the next several years.

Senior Associate Vice President of Operations Alicia Knight said at the time that because the Science and Engineering Hall doesn’t include classrooms for lectures, the School of Engineering and Applied Science would likely keep space in the three buildings.

Corcoran Hall, the University’s oldest, has also undergone renovations in the past. GW shut down the building for several days for repairs in 2013 after finding a crack that extended from one end of the hall to the other.

The Science and Engineering Hall will also house faculty from both the School of Medicine and Health Sciences and the Milken Institute School of Public Health, though not until 2016. Initially, only faculty from the engineering school and the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences were planning to move into the building.

“[This] is an opportunity for public health and medical faculty to collaborate with their colleagues in SEAS and CCAS,” Maltzman said. “Because the seventh and eighth floor will be completed prior to either Milken Institute SPH or SMHS, we do not envision this impacting the SEAS or CCAS distribution [of space in the building].”

He said it also will not impact the 118 researchers from SEAS and the Columbian College that have planned for the move since 2012.

Hermann Helgert, a professor in the electrical and computer engineering department, said the new classrooms and lab space will allow the school to attract more grants and boost its standing among other engineering programs.

“The hope is that the new facilities will increase the chances of receiving research grants for the University,” Helgert said. “The upgrade in facilities will certainly enhance the reputation of GW as a research institute.”

Laura Breyfogle, a senior associate dean at the School of Engineering at Stanford University, said upgraded facilities were critical for students and faculty to conduct cutting-edge research.

“If they have the access to the kind of equipment they need, it’s going to make a difference,” Breyfogle said.

Zach Bernsten contributed reporting.

This post was updated to reflect the following corrections:
The Hatchet incorrectly reported that Hermann Helgert is a professor in the computer science department. He is a professor in the electrical and computer engineering department. The Hatchet also misspelled Helgert’s first name. It is Hermann, not Herman. In the photo caption, The Hatchet incorrectly referred to the engineering school as a department. We regret these errors.

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