November 02, 2012 by David Klein
Come fall 2015, Drexel University hopes to complete a new housing project on the site of the current Frederic O. Hess Engineering Research Laboratory. The Hess building, built in 1997, currently hosts such essential engineering resources as the structural testing lab, the geotechnical testing lab and a hydraulic research facility.
University officials are in the process of determining where the building’s resources will be relocated and to what extent the facility will change. Some of these changes could start as early as January 2013.
“We have a list of laboratories and a list of their needs. And we are just looking at matching up the best location with the individual laboratory,” Robert Francis, vice president of University Facilities, said. “They are engineering laboratories. … they all have programmatic needs and they have requirements, so we hired a designer, a design firm, and that design firm is interviewing all the faculty members to record what those needs are, and our intention is always to provide all the programmatic needs and, at the end of the day, end up with everyone in a better situation than they are now.”
“This has been in the air for a while, and people naturally have worries about where they are going to be and what they are going to do, but I just want to make sure everybody understands that we are going room by room and function by function to look at what the needs are and to figure out how to address it in the best way possible,” Francis said.
However, Tein-Min Tan, a professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Mechanics, said that the worries are not about whether or not the labs will have a place to go. He is more concerned about how the disruption will affect current and incoming engineering students.
So far there is no plan for a new location of the machine shop, which senior students depend on to complete their senior projects. Tan is especially worried that the change will take place over a few years and that multiple years of graduating engineers will lose necessary resources for their projects.
“It’s going to affect the engineering program tremendously. For one, they haven’t found a new placement for the machine shop. For our senior projects, most of the students require use of the machine shop to make the designs. … And that’s just the obstruction of teaching part; we also have many research labs. I know some of the labs have found a new place, but there are still other labs that have no home to go to,” Tan said.
John Petrozziello, a junior mechanical engineering major, has similar concerns. “In terms of labs, the real main concern is where they are going to be moving to. … I do know that they haven’t released much information to the students as to where they are moving it to, but for us who are upperclassmen mechanical engineers, we are more worried about our senior design. Where are we going to get to work on the things we need to work on?”
“What we really want to do is concentrate and consolidate engineering in its traditional home, so if you think of Bossone and Commonwealth as being sort of the center of the engineering precinct on campus and behind it … [the] Alumni [Labs], Curtis and Randell. … So in many ways, the Hess location was never very good for engineering because it was so far away,” Francis said.
The new housing facilities that will replace the Hess labs will be built and owned by third-party developers but designated as Drexel-affiliated housing. The space will be designed for upperclassmen, with apartment-style rooms similar to those of University Crossings and the ongoing Chestnut Square project,
“Compare that with Chestnut Square that’s being built right now, that has about 25,000 square feet of retail, so if you just think about a development slightly larger than Chestnut Square going up [on] Lancaster, that gives an idea of what that development is going to look like,” Francis said.
Officials are also considering adding a new dining hall because the student population is continually growing and there is an increasing demand for a dining hall closer to freshman housing.
“Because we are growing and because the Handschumacher is really at its limit right now in terms of business we can handle there. And secondly, [the Handschumacher dining center is] farther away from the concentration of residences than the Hess site is. We want to put a larger and newer dining pavilion on the site, so housing, retail and dining on that site is the plan,” Francis said.
The University has received proposals from five major national firms that provide student housing. Each proposal is being evaluated, and recommendations will soon be given to the trustees of the University. Some of the proposals include new buildings that will have 1,200 beds and 40,000 square feet of retail space.