October 26, 2012 by Justin Roczniak
Drexel has been making noises about bringing down the Frederic O. Hess Engineering Research Laboratory. You know, the building across from the 7-Eleven that no one ever goes in or out of? It’s more important than you might think.
The Hess labs are home to numerous engineering and science laboratories like the bloodborne pathogens lab, the combustibles lab, the main civil engineering lab, and the Drexel machine shop. It is also home to several large engineering clubs like Formula SAE, Concrete Canoe and the Steel Bridge team. It is also slated to be demolished next spring and replaced with student housing and several retail buildings as part of the University’s campus master plan. This is all well and good, of course. Hess is an outdated building — the interior dates from the late 1800s, and the exterior was only done up with an ugly concrete facade in the late 1970s. It is now bereft of any intrinsic historical or sentimental value, and the only thing for it is to tear it down and hope we can construct something better in its place.
However, one thing the University has not addressed well is this: What’s going to happen to the labs that currently call Hess home?
Many of them are being moved into the Papadakis building or Bossone. These labs may have to deal with more limited space, but they are at least being moved. What is less clear is what will happen to the machine shop and the several clubs that call Hess home.
Take Drexel Formula SAE for instance. It is an engineering society that builds a small formula-style race car to be raced in national competitions. The club uses a very large shop in the back of Hess. They have been told that they will be moved out in January and have not been told to where they will be moved. This is disrupting their build cycle and causing consternation and uncertainty in the club, which does not even know if the University intends to give them a place to work in the next term. Drexel Concrete Canoe club and the Steel Bridge team are in similar positions.
This is to say nothing of the machine shop, which hundreds of students depend on for their senior design projects and other class projects that require fabrication. The new location of the machine shop has not been determined yet. The new facilities may end up being relocated far away from the main campus, a major inconvenience for students requiring frequent manufacturing services.
What’s clear is that Hess is an outdated building and ought to be torn down as soon as possible. However, it is not possible to tear down the building without first moving out all the clubs and labs and providing them with at least equivalent facilities. If some people are hurt by the Hess demolition and relocation, then the school has not truly moved in a positive direction.
Justin Roczniak is the Op-Ed editor of The Triangle. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org