May 2, 2013

Dear Members of the Amherst Community,

I write to inform you that after careful consideration the college has decided to change direction on its new science center, moving it from the anticipated Merrill site to an alternate location. The administration and Board of Trustees have made this decision for two key reasons: first, because of the escalation in cost, which can be attributed, in large part, to the demands of the site; and, second, because the impact of the preparatory work indicates that construction will cause unacceptable disruption to faculty research, teaching, and student life. The significance to Amherst of a cutting-edge interdisciplinary science center requires that we build a spectacular center within the timeframe and budget that were anticipated for the Merrill site. We will. Fiscal responsibility demands that we pivot to a less difficult site that allows for a single phase of construction.

This has been a difficult decision, because of the visionary and compelling design that Behnisch Architekten developed for the site we had chosen. We are grateful to Stefan Behnisch and to the outstanding planning and design work done by their partner firms. As we move forward, we will benefit from the work we have done together, recovering a portion of our investment in the pre-construction phases by drawing on the program elements from the current project.

Identifying an alternative site for the science center will be the first task of the planning architect we choose for our strategic planning exercise. A number of firms have been interviewed by the Facilities Working Group and we anticipate making a decision in the next two weeks. We will move with appropriate speed to decide on the siting of the new science center and on a design architect for the new site. In the meantime, the college will address necessary improvements in Merrill to allow for ongoing scientific research and teaching in a safe and productive environment. Jim Brassord and Jack Cheney will continue to work with the science faculty steering committee and seek input from the future occupants of the science center.

By 2018, as planned, we will have opened a new science center that meets the research needs of our faculty while offering the best science education available to undergraduates anywhere. We have planned two open meetings for those of you who want to learn more or have questions about the project. These are scheduled for 7:30 p.m. tonight at Paino Lecture Hall (Beneski Building) and tomorrow morning at 9:30 a.m. in Johnson Chapel. 


Biddy Martin

President of Amherst College