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New England Building Aglow is a Beacon of Science Improvements to Come

A whimsical email message arrived from Buildings and Grounds project manager Bryan Corrigan on January 17, complete with a blurry attached photo taken on his smart phone:  “Last evening someone removed New England Building and replaced it with a giant paper lantern.”

New England, January 2014 ©Vassar College/ Tamar M. Thibodeau
New England, January 2014 ©Vassar College/ Tamar M. Thibodeau

New England unexpectedly aglow at night — fully wrapped to insulate the building so that exterior work can proceed in the cold weather — has been a warming campus sight this winter. It has also been a helpful reminder of the full extent of the Integrated Science Center project designed by Ennead Architects underway, with attention so easily focused on the exciting new 80,000-square-foot “bridge” building scheduled for completion in the fall of 2015. But this coming fall semester, Vassar will begin enjoying the first benefits of the sweeping sciences project when both New England and the Sanders Physics Building re-open with significant upgrades, after more than a year of work.

Corrigan explains that full renovations are happening in both of the early 20th-century buildings (New England opened in 1901, Sanders in 1926). Each will have new infrastructure and mechanical systems (e.g., electrical, heating/cooling, data, life safety), structural improvements (such as foundation reinforcement), as well as upgrades to their “vertical circulation” (new elevator and stairs) and “finishes” (walls, ceilings, and flooring). Windows will be restored and renewed as will all exterior masonry. Roofing will be replaced and repaired, and both buildings will be fully accessible to the standards of the Americans With Disabilities Act.

Roof renovations to Sanders Physics will help transform its former attic into expanded teaching and research space ©Vassar College/Morgan Mansour '14
Roof renovations to Sanders Physics will help transform its former attic into expanded teaching and research space ©Vassar College/Morgan Mansour '14

In addition, both New England and Sanders are being renovated following guidelines created by the U.S. Green Building Council and will be Vassar’s first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified buildings. The new bridge building is slated to achieve LEED silver status.

As the new home of the Psychology and Cognitive Science departments, New England will reopen with many original architectural features restored and reintroduced. Prominent among these will be the main staircase and its forgotten magnificent combination of skylight and lay light (a glazed panel set flush to the ceiling to admit natural light). Redefined space will increase efficiency and usable square footage in Sanders — such as the expansion of its former attic into new classroom and lab space — making room for the Computer Science Department to join the Physics and Astronomy Department in the building.

"It's hard to imagine that in just five short months we will be moving back into beautifully re-purposed and renovated spaces in two noteworthy historic buildings,” said Marianne Begemann, dean of strategic planning and academic resources, who is overseeing the Integrated Science Center and who while still a chemistry professor became a central participant in the project’s development.

Though the planner that she is, Begemann can’t take her eyes off the big picture for long. While the arrangements for returning to New England and Sanders are underway, she and numerous Vassar colleagues are also finalizing the details of moving faculty, staff, students, and their equipment out of the Olmsted Hall of Biological Sciences this summer so that major mechanical and structural work can begin there (the new bridge building will connect with Olmsted). The grateful dean remarked, “The logistics of accommodating people and programs throughout the construction process makes construction itself seem easy at times and wouldn't be possible without the cooperation and hard work of all involved."

Posted by Office of Communications Thursday, February 6, 2014