MADISON – The longtime space crunch for students taking chemistry classes will finally begin to ease in a couple of years, the famous but antiquated Babcock Dairy Hall is getting a big addition and the meat science program will soon get a new building on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus.
A mini building boom of three long-awaited, major construction projects totaling nearly $220 million is on the horizon of the state’s flagship university in addition to two other major building projects currently underway.
Three cranes already are in the air for a $93-million, four-story student recreation complex rising across the street from the Kohl Center, and another crane is lifting building materials a block away for the $53-million renovation and expansion of the Witte dorm.
Of the nearly $220 million for the chemistry and agriculture building projects, a UW Board of Regents committee endorsed $45.5 million, as costs increased for all three projects. The full regents board is expected to act on the spending increase Friday.
The biggest news is that the chemistry complex expansion and renovation is finally moving forward and on schedule.
Two floors of undergraduate instructional labs — a total of six teaching labs — will be added to a 10-level, 188,442-gross-square-foot chemistry teaching tower because the university came up with funding that did not exist when the design was approved. Those labs would have been unfinished shells for future construction if the funding had not come through when it did.
New money generated by the university also will cover renovation of the Daniels chemistry building, modernizing and adding safety features to six undergraduate teaching labs original to the 1964 building. The Daniels renovation will include additional classrooms, student study spaces and offices for undergraduate chemistry staff.
“Doing it this way will allow us to maintain enrollment capacity in freshman labs during construction, which is an accomplishment,” said Robert McMahon, a chemistry professor and department chair. “It is a carefully choreographed sequence of events, culminating in increased enrollment capacity to meet the demands of undergraduate students in STEM disciplines.”
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The new funding represents a major commitment to address enrollment pressure in introductory general chemistry courses, McMahon said.
Groundbreaking for the new chemistry tower on the southwest corner of University Ave. and Mills St. is set for early June. The Daniels building renovation will begin in two years, once the new tower is completed.
The Daniels renovation is expected to be finished in October 2022.
The additional $29.3 million added to the project budget — $24 million in gifts and $5.3 million in cash from the university’s federal funding for indirect research costs — will boost the total project to an estimated $123 million. Of that amount, $86.2 million is to come from state-supported borrowing approved several years ago.
Outdated, crowded chemistry labs have been a high-profile problem on the state’s flagship research campus for 25 years and the project has had its share of fits and starts.
Undergraduate enrollment in chemistry courses has grown roughly 50% in the last 20 years with the growth in the so-called STEM fields, science, technology, engineering and math. Many students who need chemistry classes for majors are taking longer to graduate or they face a mad scramble to meet requirements for their majors.
Half of all entering UW-Madison freshmen take a chemistry course their first semester on campus. Virtually all students majoring in science, engineering and health fields require chemistry courses as prerequisites to courses in their major, university officials have said.
The second major new building project is the Babcock Hall dairy plant renovation and an addition to Babcock for a new Center for Dairy Research.
That project will cost $12.5 million more than originally budgeted, boosting the total price to $46.92 million because “as the project proceeded to the final design and bidding phase, the complexity of the project’s scope became more defined,” according to materials provided to the regents.
The $46.92 million Babcock project involves $22.2 million in state-supported borrowing and $6.25 million in federal dollars the university set aside from funds to cover indirect costs related to research. That project budget was increased by $12.5 million on Thursday.
The three-story addition and remodel of portions of Babcock Hall will provide a state-of-the-art production, teaching and research facility for both the Department of Food Sciences’ Dairy Plant and the Center for Dairy Research.
Construction is to start in May and the project is expected to be finished in January 2021.
The 1950s-era research and processing facility has not been renovated since it was built, according to university officials.
The Babcock dairy plant no longer meets current health code standards and regulations for dairy plant construction and operation, according to materials provided to the regents.
That noncompliance puts the plant in danger of being closed by regulators in the near future if deficiencies are not corrected, according to materials provided to the regents.
There also are problems that compromise health and safety. Raw milk storage tanks and processing equipment are on the main floor. Modern standards of dairy plant design require storage tanks to be physically separated to minimize the risk of pathogenic bacteria from raw milk cross-contaminating finished dairy products and causing consumer illness and potential product recalls.
Research projects cannot be separated from the consumer product manufacturing area, which also poses the potential risk for cross-contamination. Plant security is an issue with too many poorly secured access points, according to university officials.
Additionally, the work area for accommodating farmers taking the dairy short course is unsafe due to crowded conditions as well as exposure to steam lines, corroded electrical outlets and chemicals.
“Health and safety, both of our employees and consumers, are of paramount importance to the university,” UW-Madison spokeswoman Meredith McGlone said Thursday.
“The functional issues at the Babcock plant are typical for a facility of its age. We have controls in place to minimize any risks and those are working well. The new facility will not only improve the plant’s functioning, it will expand product research and development services to the dairy industry and offer improved educational opportunities to our students as well as short-course participants.”
MEAT SCIENCE LAB
The third project — the Meat Science and Muscle Biology Laboratory — will cost $3.7 million more than originally budgeted because excavation of the site revealed that cinders from an old coal-fired plant, which dates back a century or more, were used extensively as fill. More cinders than expected had to be removed to certified landfills because they’re considered unsuitable soil.
That project, totaling $49.47 million with the additional $3.7 million in cash and redirected borrowing from other projects, will involve a new meat slaughtering-to-packaging facility, including a lecture/demonstration suite, a biosecurity level 2 research lab suite, teaching and research laboratories and office and support spaces.
The Seed Facility is being demolished as part of that project.
The new Meat Science and Muscle Biology Laboratory is expected to be substantially completed in January 2019, with final completion expected in September 2019.
Science-related building projects are going up on other campuses, as well.
UW-Madison isn’t the only campus with outdated, cramped chemistry labs.
UW-Stevens Point is finishing construction of a $75.18 million, four-story science building expected to open next fall. UW-La Crosse expects to finish its new, four-story $82 million science building next winter.
UW-Milwaukee has been frustrated by its inability to renovate its outdated chemistry building. Students in some chemistry labs there can’t do experiments with chemicals that give off toxic fumes because the exhaust hoods they work under are only marginally effective, posing safety risks.