A new home for life sciences at Penn is on track to open by 2016.
The School of Arts and Sciences is moving forward with its plan to construct a new Neural-Behavioral Sciences building, a 76,500-square-foot facility near 38th Street and University Avenue.
The University has already completed the schematic design — the initial phase that identifies the size, overall program and cost estimate — of the construction process, according to Principal Planner in the Office of the University Architect Mark Kocent. The $68.6 million project is currently near the end of the design development phase, which will likely be finalized within the next year, he added.
The Wistar Laboratories currently reside in one of the buildings that the NBS building will eventually displace. Due to Wistar’s temporary lease, the earliest that Facilities and Real Estate Services could demolish the site and begin building would be in 2014, according to FRES Executive Director of Design and Construction Mike Dausch.
Once it begins, however, construction will last about two years, giving the NBS building an initial expected occupancy date of spring 2016.
The new building will house the Psychology and Biology departments, as well as the Biological Basis of Behavior program and the Roy and Diana Vagelos Life Sciences and Management program, said Associate Dean for the Natural Sciences Richard Schultz.
“We are thrilled to be moving forward with the construction of this building, which will be so important to the future of education and research in the life sciences,” SAS Dean Rebecca Bushnell added in an email. “It promises to be a vital hub for students and faculty who are committed to exploring new areas in the life sciences and neuroscience.”
Though the University’s design plans are not yet finalized, the NBS building is slated to feature offices, classrooms and small rooms for research labs and clinical testing, among other things. Additionally, the basement level of the site will include a 182-seat auditorium, which other departments within the University will be able to use for large lectures, Dausch said.
The academic departments within the NBS building will generally be split by floor to remain close to their respective labs, but according to Schultz the building will fulfill a dual purpose of consolidating the undergraduate experience and the faculty in the life sciences.
“[Today], biology majors have no home where they can hang out,” he said. “Psychology is scattered all over the place, and BBB also really has no place … The main objective is to have a place where Penn undergraduates who are life science majors have a place where they can relate to.”
Indeed, BBB major and Vice President of the BBB Society Karishma Sitapara, a College senior, explained that her courses have been spread out at all ends of campus — ranging from Huntsman Hall to Leidy Laboratories to College Hall.
“It would be nice to have [the major] all in one place,” Sitapara said.
In addition to consolidating life sciences students, the building also aims to bring together the departments’ faculty members.
“We are establishing a little life sciences neighborhood,” Schultz said.
For biology professor Marc Schmidt, the prospect of the NBS building offers exciting academic and logistical possibilities.
The new building “will greatly facilitate my daily schedule, but the most important aspect … is that it will create a hub on campus for the neural, behavioral and psychological sciences,” he said in an email.
In addition, the fact that many labs are relocating to the NBS building, and will therefore share space with labs in other disciplines, may pave the way for greater collaboration in research.
“This is a win-win situation at so many different levels,” Schmidt said.
“There’s a lot of overlap in the disciplines between biology and psychology,” Schultz added. “If you bring people together, there’s a higher likelihood of interactions happening [among them] than if they are scattered throughout the four points of campus.”
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