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Oxford College looks to construct new science building

OXFORD -- Oxford College administrators spoke to Oxford City Council members during the city's work session Monday night to discuss plans for a new science building and development of a new master plan for the campus.

"Our No. 1 building priority at Oxford College right now is a new science building," said Stephen Bowen, dean of Oxford College, speaking of the present building that was built in 1961. "In about the last 45 years, the world of science has changed dramatically, but Pierce Hall is the same."

Officials are concerned that the building, which is shared with the math department, has small lab spaces. Their hope is that added safety will come with new technologies and developments and that there will be extra room for program development and expansion.

Even after renovations over the years, a space needs analysis of the college in 2005 showed that there was a 58 percent deficit in lab space, and Bowen said it's greater now.

"You can imagine how devastating it was to learn how far behind we were ... to support the program we have," said Eloise Carter, a science professor at the college and a project leader for the planning.

She said 40 percent of the students who enter Oxford College are interested in studying science and medicine.

"We're talking about the opportunity to influence the lives of young people in science ... who are going to change the world for us," she said.

The students, who are active and move around constantly in their labs, need space, adequate equipment and instrumentation and the ability to think and act like scientists, she said.

"That requires a different kind of space," she said. "We don't have another ounce of space."

She said already the school has made use of closets, storage areas and offices for lab space and even repurposed some areas this year that they didn't think was possible to do last year.

"This is an enormous need," she said. "The future of this college ... is depending on the bright, young minds and providing them with adequate buildings."

Emory University agreed a couple of years ago to fund half of the expected $30 million science building. But Oxford College has to collect the other half of the funding.

"We're busy raising funds for the balance," Bowen said. "We need about $9.5 million to finish the project."

With the uncertainty of funding comes the uncertainty of when they will be ready to build.

"We can't say when exactly," Bowen said.

But a committee and architects are working now to plan for the inevitable construction.

"We will build a science building that supports teaching science for freshmen and sophomores designed for Oxford College purposes, not an off-the-rack-building," Bowen said.

"It's not going to be a classroom building -- it really is dedicated to science," Carter added.

Site evaluations and feasibility studies will determine the best location of the building, which hasn't been decided or approved by Emory University yet. Originally, the college thought about placing it on the quadrangle in the center of campus, but it would have required removing dorms and other intact buildings.

After audience members and council members showed concern about the removal of trees for the new building or other buildings, Carter said that Emory University has a no net loss canopy policy -- any trees that are removed must be compensated for, and if any trees are damaged during construction, there are penalties for companies.

"Emory is very serious about this," she said.

College representatives hope to update the Oxford City Council later in October on more specific site plans for the new building. Pierce Hall would remain in use for the math department and repurposed for other departments to later be determined.

In conjunction with the plans for the new science building, Oxford College also is updating its campus master plan, which was developed about five years ago.

"A lot has happened, though, in the last five years," Bowen said, citing the recession and trying to repurpose buildings rather than rebuild them as originally planned, as well as this year housing more than 900 students on the campus, instead of the capacity of 850 students.

Myra Frady, dean for resource planning, chief financial officer and a project leader for planning, is leading the project to redevelop the master plan.

"It's more of an update, not a new master plan," she said, adding that while some of the details of the original master plan aren't useful, a lot of the other work is still relevant.

Frady said the plan will focus on more need for dining space, which would create more outdoor spaces for dining as well as dining options in student gathering locations; renovating historic buildings like 159-year-old Phi Gamma Hall, 136-year old Language Hall and others; landscaping and parking, among other issues.

The plans also will look at renovating the library. Originally, plans called for the demolition and rebuilding of the library to support compact shelving. But after new contractors decided that the 41-year old building can withstand the shelving -- crews already have installed the shelving on the first floor. Frady said plans now include installing the compact shelving on the second floor and also constructing a small addition to the library.

They also want to address traffic and pedestrian congestion on Haygood and Hamill streets, and are conducting traffic and feasibility studies.

"I know they are concerns for you; they're also concerns for us," she told City Council members.

The college wants to develop a traffic plan jointly with the city -- possibly opening up Hull Street -- that will work for both parties. The college also has looked at moving its main entrance from Hamill Street to Pierce Street.

The college plans to start more work on the campus plan in October and have it completely updated by April.