Tour date: November 5, 2019
The early sun set that comes with the end of daylight savings time, coupled with gloomy November rains and the accompanying mud, did not deter us from stomping around the Boston College campus to visit two Payette projects: the Merkert Chemistry Teaching Lab Renovations and the Schiller Institute for Integrated Science and Society (IISS).
While the two projects are in the same area of the Boston College campus, they are vastly different in scale and scope. Merkert was a fit-out project renovating two floors of chemistry teaching labs. The Schiller Institute, on the other hand is 156,500 SF of new construction which requires the demolition of an existing building, connection to an existing building, and transforms a central quad and pedestrian route on the campus.
The Schiller Institute in its current state is a very, very large hole. Excavation is well underway and we bore witness to the perimeter micro piles and cross-lot bracing which define the extent of the support of excavation. At the northeast corner of the site, we discussed the excavation challenges that come with new construction so close to an existing building. The Schiller Institute is not only adjacent to, but will in fact connect with Higgins Hall via a connector bridge on the third level and a shared loading dock on the first level. To maintain the structural integrity of the foundation of Higgins Hall, the team used needle beams as opposed to a more typical underpinning methods due bedrock beneath the footing.
After touring the perimeter of the site, we dried off in the construction trailer and heard from Payette’s Diana Tsang and the site superintendent from Suffolk, Frank Davis. The presentation included an overview of the program and building plans and then transitioned to a review of demolition and excavation to-date. Drones have been documenting the entire demolition process, so we were able to view key stages of construction including: site clearing, removal of interiors, demolition of exterior facades, demolition of structural steel, recycling and material separation, and the early steps of the excavation process. The building that formerly occupied the site, Cushing Hall, was 55 years old and was home to the Connell School of Nursing. (See a short tribute to Cushing Hall here.)
In addition to the Schiller Institute site tour, we walked through teaching lab renovations at the Merkert Chemistry Center, which opened in 2013. Lynne O’Connell, Adjunct Associate Professor of Chemistry and the Director of Introductory Chemistry Labs, led our group through the general chemistry, organic chemistry and flexible teaching labs.
Back at the office, while working on another science project at Northeastern University that includes several chemistry teaching labs, I am thinking about our Boston College site visit and two aspects of the Merkert Center renovation seem particularly relevant as we move into the Construction Document phase:
- Transparency: A significant feature of the teaching labs are the transparent fume hoods which allow visibility to the outside. This simple selection of equipment has a high impact on the quality of the space – for both students and instructors. The design also maximizes transparency between interior spaces: glass doors, sliding whiteboard panels, and glass-backed fume hoods open sight lines between labs and to the corridor.
- Signage: On nearly every drawer, cabinet, shelf, sink, and rack, there was an affixed sign. The need for labeling for these high-traffic student labs is a necessity, but also becomes a dominant feature of the space once fully occupied. Are there ways to plan better for labels, safety signage, wayfinding, etc.?
The Sounds of Chemistry
Renovated Chemistry Labs at Boston College