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BEP phase one comes to a close

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On the northwest corner of campus, construction for the new Biology, Engineering, and Psychology building persists as the fall semester comes to an end. Since enrollment has risen for the biology, engineering, and psychology departments, BEP is being built to provide these departments with more space.  

BEP is in part the result of Eugene Lang’s $50 million donation, the largest gift in the college’s history, and is to house the biology, engineering, and psychology departments. It is expected to be completed by fall of 2020 with the first stage opening up summer of 2019. BEP will be a five-story building with one floor below ground. The building is expected to have meeting spaces, lecture halls, classrooms, a greenhouse, and a solar lab.

According to Carr Everbach, head of the engineering department, after student protests for divestment in 2013, the college’s Board of Managers agreed to allot additional money to equip BEP with more environmentally sustainable features.

“This process of defining what BEP was going to be continued until the spring of 2013 in which Mountain Justice and other students asked the Board of Managers to divest from all fossil fuel stocks and the Board of Managers refused. There were subsequent protests and possibly as related consequence of those concerns the Board of Managers agreed to allocate an additional $12 million to make it [BEP] as environmentally sustainable as possible,” Everbach said.

According to Larry Warner, the BEP project manager with Skanska — the firm managing construction for the BEP project — the college was proactive about implementing these environmentally sustainable features.

“One thing the college has asked the design team and construction team to come up with is a way to monitor the energy savings of the building. A lot of the systems, like the mechanical and electrical systems, are designed in a way to be energy efficient. Each of these components was built with energy efficiency in mind,” Warner said.

Andrew Ward, head of the psychology department, looks forward to these characteristics of the new building.

The sustainable aspects of the new construction, including climate control provided by geothermal wells, is a boon to Swarthmore,” Ward said in an e-mail.

As a psychology professor, Ward has been involved in the planning process for the building for several years.

The psychology department was formerly housed in Papazian Hall. After the destruction of Papazian to make space for the BEP building, the department was, and currently is, housed in Whittier Hall. With the creation of a new shared space, Ward also looks forward to the potential collaborative work between the biology, engineering, and psychology departments in the new building.

“[Psychology, biology, engineering] department members will, for the first time in many decades, have offices on the same floor as one another, making it easier for us to engage in informal contact with each other,” Ward said. “At the same time, the sharing of a building with biology and engineering promises to enhance collaboration between our departments. With the growth of interdisciplinary initiatives in such fields as neuroscience and cognitive science, we believe that being in the same building with faculty and students in related fields will be a tremendous asset to us and to the college.”

Everbach echoes this sentiment about prospective cooperation between departments.

The biology, engineering, and psychology departments have all functioned very separately both curricularly and in different buildings. There are some connections between them but they have been remote, but by putting them in the same space there will be opportunities for collaboration, discussion, and possibly for co-teaching and co-projects. I think at the very least, students from these departments will be intermingling and interacting and there will be some effect on the faculty and the curriculum because of that,” Everbach said.

Everbach also notes the benefits that a new space will offer the engineering department.

“Biology and psychology have a space and a quality of space problem. Hicks Hall is a stone box with little opportunity for moving the walls around inside or adding on things,” Everbach said “BEP will offer more square feet, more high-quality square feet, and more flexible and reconfigurable square feet.”

Nick Kaplinsky, associate biology professor and the department’s representative for the BEP project, also noted the lack of space in Martin Hall, the building currently housing the biology department.

“Everyone in the department has deep historical attachments to Martin Hall. But Martin’s lack of space and age place limitations on what we’d like to do and so it is time for a new building,” Kaplinsky said in an email. “We will have more space and, in many cases, labs that are customized for the particular types of experiments that are being taught by individual faculty members. An example of this is that in our current building there is no classroom where we can have 12 students working with soil. BEP will have one.”

Though many are excited by the prospect of a new building, the construction process can be lengthy and disruptive for some.

“It’s a painful process getting those nice facilities and we’ve already suffered some this semester with construction, and we’ll have to endure two more years of it. We do understand that construction is dangerous, noisy, and messy and that we have to tough it,” Everbach said.

Warner says that certain precautions are being taken to ensure that the construction process is not overly disruptive to the students or faculty.

“One of the things we take into consideration is the disruptions to the community. A lot of the planning that occurs behind the scenes is about how we limit the disruptions to the community,” Warner said. “It starts with our deliveries: there are large signs that tell trucks where they can and cannot go. All of that was coordinated with the borough of Swarthmore and the college.”

Currently, the BEP building is in Phase One of construction. According to Janet Semler, the director of capital planning and project management at Swarthmore, Phase One involves constructing permanent foundation walls for the basement floor of the building.

In the next few weeks, however, the next phase of the process will begin: the erection of structural steel, the columns and beams that will form the skeleton of the building. This next stage in the construction process is expected to continue throughout the spring semester before decking and roofing is installed in the summer.

For the time being, the sounds of construction and the flying dust will continue even as the semester comes to a close.

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