Plans to construct the new Molecular and Life Sciences facility have been indefinitely postponed, according to the Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA) Report from the Board of Trustees Retreat as revealed at the WSA’s public meeting last Sunday night.
“Because the endowment is down four percent or about 100 million dollars from where it was projected to be at this time, it is no longer in the position to be prudently leveraged as necessary to pay for the $160 million Molecular and Life Sciences Building,” the report reads.
The new building, which was announced in the fall of 2007, was intended to create more green space and connect the sciences to the rest of campus. In addition to more labs, classrooms and offices, environmental planning was to be factored into construction as a long-term means to reduce costs. The facility was to be built behind Exley Science Tower and the Science Library, and called for the controversial demolition of the campus’ historic Shanklin building and Hall-Atwater Labs.
Though the Molecular and Life Sciences building would not have been completed until 2015, a two-phase construction plan was set to begin in the winter of 2009.
According to the report, the Board extensively discussed the delaying of the project. However, the length of the postponement and the lifespan of campus’ existing science facilities remain unknown.
At the Oct. 5 meeting, President Michael Roth emphasized fiscal responsibility above all else in this time of economic turmoil.
“You can’t just add, you have to cut,” Roth said. “I’m not going to increase the debt ratio just to get the building up…That’s why we’re having these conversations [about postponing construction]—there’s a long history of Wesleyan spending money and not investing it properly.”
Roth went on to invoke the financial blunders of past University presidents, including the use of the University’s entire endowment to build the Center for Fine Arts (CFA), which was not yet completed when funds ran out.
But despite this setback in the revamping of natural sciences facilities, Roth remained positive about the University’s academic strength and appeal.
“I don’t see [the delay] as hindering on recruiting science students,” he said.
Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Joe Bruno echoed these sentiments, and was cautiously optimistic about continuing to work with Roth and the Board of Trustees to achieve their goal of new, sophisticated science facilities.
“The University is committed to investing in the sciences, but the upheaval in the financial markets requires us to revisit our original plans,” Bruno said.
At the November Board meeting, Bruno expects to discuss in further detail options for the timeline, budget and scale of initiatives that will enhance the University’s science facilities.
For some students, the campus need for expanded science facilities has not gone unnoticed.
“As a biology student in two classes that are trying to have labs right now, both teachers are telling me that they’re having trouble getting space for them,” said Kate Heller ’09, who is a biology major. “So I understand why they needed to build this new building with more labs.”
Heller, however, believes that the stalled period could be used as an opportunity to ensure that the new building does not suffer from the sort of flaws seen in some of the campus’ recently constructed buildings.
“From a personal standpoint, the new science building looked like it was going to be another big, ugly goliath like Usdan,” she said. “Given issues in newer buildings, such as the lack of closets in Senior Fauver and inaccessibility to the basement in Usdan, maybe the postponement is a good opportunity to reexamine the practicalities of their building plan.”
Dean of Natural Sciences and Mathematics David Bodznick worked with the Molecular and Life Science Building Committee, project manager Rob Schmidt, and a team of architects from Payette to get the new facility approved. Bodznick believes that nothing could have been done to prevent the indefinite postponement in the face of the nation’s current financial crisis.
“I am very sad that delaying this project is unavoidable,” Bodznick said. “Through several years of work…we have designed a building that would be transformative for Wesleyan’s campus, a building not just for science but for the institution.”
According to Bodznick, the budgetary and environmental goals of his departments are unchanged, and the delay in the project will be used as an opportunity to make necessary improvements to campus’ current science facilities to ensure that the quality of courses remains strong.
“We are determined to preserve our preeminent position as the leader in sciences among all small liberal arts colleges and institutions,” he said. “President Roth has committed to providing the resources necessary to allow our current facilities to operate safely and efficiently until new facilities are possible.”