As plans for the new Molecular and Life Sciences Building solidify, a growing number of students and faculty are questioning the decision to demolish Shanklin Laboratory to make room for the new facility.
On Feb. 11, Izaak Orlansky ’08 founded “The Save Shanklin Campaign” Facebook group, writing that, “as one of Wesleyan’s most historic buildings, Shanklin deserves an eleventh-hour fight for its survival.” Since then, the group has attracted 90 members.
“Something I’ve always appreciated about the campus is the history and Shanklin is a part of that history,” Orlansky said.
Historically, the building is a key part of the campus. Built in 1928 alongside the Hall Laboratory of Chemistry, Shanklin was part of a greater project by the architectural firm McKim, Mead & White to align the University’s campus around Olin Memorial Library.
Shanklin was designed to stand opposite Harriman Dormitory, now known as the Public Affairs Center, and provide an architectural balance across Church Street.
The Hall labs, the architectural companion to Olin, were torn down in 1968 to make room for Exley Science Center.
The cost of replacing Shanklin and renovating the building would be about equal, but the architects and the Molecular and Life Sciences Building Committee decided that trying to build around the building would be less efficient, spatially and economically.
“The architects did exactly the job that they were told to do,” Orlansky said, speaking of the facility’s Boston-based architecture firm Payette.
The Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA) has a seat on the building committee, and invited members of the committee to give talks at WSA meetings. The WSA also conducted a straw poll“a nonbinding vote”last year, and the majority voted for keeping Shanklin.
Orlansky has hope that there can be changes made to the design, but he recognizes that the “The Save Shanklin Campaign” has become more of a way to bring awareness to the issues.
“If nothing else, ’The Save Shanklin Campaign’ will force the Wesleyan community to recognize what we are doing and give those who believe in historic preservation a place to voice their opposition to this decision,” Orlansky wrote on the Facebook group’s description.
He hopes that there will be enough support behind the movement to be able to write a letter to the Board of Trustees.
While this student movement to save the building is nascent, a group of professors dubbed the “Shanklinistas” have had very strong opinions about the destruction of Shanklin from the beginning.
“The ’Shanklinistas’ are those residents of Shanklin who really love it here,” said self-described “Shanklinista” Ann Burke, Associate Professor of biology.
Burke went on to say that efforts to save the building were ultimately trumped by the plans of the architects.
“As far as the architects are concerned, [Shanklin] is simply in the way,” she said.
There were a number of proposed initial plans for the Molecular and Life Sciences Building that would have saved Shanklin, including one that would have sited a large L-shaped building along the edge of Foss Hill and Andrus Field.
“We fought, we dragged our heels, because we just love this building,” Stephen Devoto, Associate Professor of Biology and Neuroscience & Behavior, told The Argus when the plan was announced in the fall. “We forced the architect to give us a plan that had Shanklin, but with tremendous reluctance we accepted that there’s no way to create a facility that both saves Shanklin and would work for us and Wesleyan.”
Another scenario would place a long structure behind Shanklin on the hill that extends from Exley down to High Steet, but that plan would require demolishing a number of houses and have had an unbalancing effect on the shape of the campus as a whole.
“It’s a compromise,” Burke said, explaining that although Shanlkin does have community value and inherent value, there are other needs that are most efficiently met by replacing it.
Even though the growth of nostalgia towards the Shanklin Laboratory building has grown significantly in the past few weeks, many students remain unaware of all the facts.
“I have to know more about Shanklin to be opposed to it or for it,” Cait McHugh ’10 said.
Still, Orlansky and the “Shanklinistas” remain hopeful and optimistic that more awareness will bring more supporters.
“We never got to come together as a community,” Orlansky said. “More people than [the building committee and the administration] think and care about Shanklin.”