Trustees Announce New Plans for Science Center

The New Science Center

To remain a leader in liberal arts education, Amherst must continue to be a leader in science education. Today, scientific knowledge—and the ability to communicate research findings—has enormous societal implications for the United States and, indeed, the world.

For aspiring scientists or health care professionals, conducting original research with faculty guidance can pave the way to future success, thanks to both the significant skills developed and the relationships formed. Students build confidence in conducting research and presenting their findings—and gain valuable mentors.

The College is approaching the science center in a manner true to its liberal arts foundation, which values faculty-student collaboration and an interdisciplinary approach to inquiry.

At its October 2013 meeting, the Board of Trustees approved plans for a new science center and related projects that we have been developing since the decision last spring to pivot away from the Behnisch design for a building on the Merrill site. The Board's statement is appended below:

On October 11 the Board of Trustees approved a facilities plan that will yield a new science center and begin to redesign the East Campus. The plan calls for the new science center to be built on the East Campus and to be completed by the fall of 2018. The facility will ensure that, among liberal arts colleges, Amherst remains a leader in undergraduate science. To make way for the science center, the Social Dorms—now at the end of their useful lives—will be razed. To replace them, new residence halls will be built to the south of Merrill, where the temporary dorms Plaza and Waldorf are currently located. The new residence halls will be ready for occupancy by the fall of 2016. After the science programs move into the new facility, Merrill and McGuire will be saved and developed for other purposes, as yet undetermined. The new projects will be linked to one another and to the rest of the campus by a new form of greenspace: not a traditional quad but a landscaped walkway among open expanses that will encourage foot traffic and outdoor gatherings, and will offer new paths of movement around the perimeter of the hillside.

In moving forward, the College has been guided by several principles. They include, but are not limited to, the following: First, a new science center must be an adaptable facility that will serve the College’s science program—essential to the mission of a liberal arts institution in the twenty-first century—long into the future. Its primary and overriding purpose is to support and connect teaching and research in the sciences. Second, the selection of a specific site for the new facility must serve a larger vision of campus development and of the integration of living and learning environments that a residential college requires. Third, the College must vigorously manage every stage of planning, design, and construction to maximize the value of its capital investment. Fourth, the College, which has already made great strides in sustainability, must remain committed to cutting-edge sustainability practices in all of its new construction.

The integrated facilities plan is the result of intensive work undertaken at the direction of President Biddy Martin and with the support of the Board of Trustees; it was begun last spring when the College moved away from a previous science-center plan as a result of concerns about costs and disruption. That plan called for a new facility to be built into the hillside on the Merrill site. During the past four months a team of administrators, faculty, and trustees has made site visits to new science facilities on a number of campuses, including Middlebury, Dartmouth, Swarthmore, Princeton, Hamilton, and Colgate. The team has consulted closely with the architectural firm of Beyer Blinder Belle, which in association with Payette Associates is helping to create a larger framework plan for the future of the campus.

The current estimate for a science center on the East Campus is $214 million, which compares with an estimate of more than $270 million for the previous hillside plan. The current estimate for construction of new residence halls—which would have been needed under any scenario, owing to the deteriorating condition of the Social Dorms—totals $60 million. (All estimates will likely escalate over time because of anticipated inflation in construction markets.) As noted, the new plan calls for the preservation of Merrill and McGuire as structures, which will provide considerable savings over new construction when repurposed in the future. Taken together, the projects would be paid for with substantial funds already in hand and designated for these projects, continued fund-raising, and some combination of modest debt issuance and/or incremental distribution from the endowment. Although savings have already been realized in the development of the conceptual design as a result of adjustments to scale and scope, we will continue to evaluate these as the project design develops.

This plan for a world-class science center and badly needed new residence halls, all sited in the context of a compelling vision for the future development of the campus, embodies Amherst’s values and ambitions as a preeminent liberal arts institution, as well as its resolve to steward its resources wisely.

Biddy Martin

Amherst College to Shift Siting of Science Center Project

AMHERST, Mass.—Amherst College officials have announced they will pursue an alternate site for a planned new science center, while remaining on track for a 2018 project completion date.

President Biddy Martin announced the decision in an email sent to the college community on Thursday.

“The administration and Board of Trustees have made this decision for two key reasons,” Martin said. “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 current site,” she added. “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,” Martin said. “We are grateful to Stefan Behnisch and to the outstanding planning and design work done by their team.”

Cullen Murphy, chair of Amherst College’s Board of Trustees, said:  “Stefan Behnisch and his team have set a high standard for creativity, collaboration and responsiveness. We are grateful for their insights and professionalism.”

The college now turns to identifying a new site for the science center, and will begin that process immediately. A decision about an architect will be informed by the site selection process. In the meantime, the college will address necessary improvements at its Merrill Science Center to allow for ongoing scientific research and teaching in a safe and productive environment.

“As planned, in 2018, 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,” Martin said.

Read President Martin’s letter to the community.