The University is seeking the city's permission to demolish Smith Hall -- home of the Fine Arts and History and Sociology of Science departments -- to make room for a new science and technology institute, Provost Michael Aiken announced yesterday. Despite protests by Smith Hall's occupants, Aiken said the University plans to build the Institute of Advanced Science and Technology on the spot on 34th Street between the Towne Building and Hayden Hall. The University first proposed using this site as the home for the institute last fall. At that time, students and faculty who work in Smith Hall had the structure certified as a historical building in order to stave off University developers. The building is nearly 100 years old and is considered by some to be of historical architectural importance. The hall is also part of Smith Walk, which features buildings built in the same time period. These students and faculty say placing a modern building on the walk would destroy its atmosphere. The historical status of the building forces the University to receive approval from the Philadelphia Historical Preservation Commission before modifying or destroying it. The commission will have a hearing next week to consider the University's request to tear the building down. Vice President for Facilities Management Arthur Gravina said last night the commission should make its decision in a few months. H & SS Professor Robert Kohler, who was involved in last year's movement to save Smith Hall, said last night he thinks the commission will allow the University to demolish the old building. The institute, which has been under consideration for a few years, is designed to provide several new laboratories in one centralized location. The labs will be designated for technical and scientific research and will be next door to the Chemistry Building. Gravina said yesterday the proximity to the Chemistry Building and other science buildings made the Smith Hall location the most advantageous site. The plan will entail a shuffling of several departments, however. Gravina said the Music and Morgan buildings will house "dry" labs for engineering research, and the new structure will contain "wet" labs for chemistry experimentation. The Fine Arts department will move to the Hajoca Building across from the Class of 1923 Ice Rink. H & SS will be temporarily housed in the Science Center on 34th and Market streets, and will permanently move into a renovated Houston Hall when the new campus center is completed. Students and faculty members last night criticized the University for its decision to raze Smith Hall, saying its absence will leave a historical void on campus. "I think it's typical of the University's shortsightedness and its lack of respect for its historic buildings and the fact that the University continually privileges sciences," H & SS graduate student Julie Johnson said last night. Johnson, who led last year's movement to declare Smith Hall a historic building, said she plans to attend the commission's hearing next week to counter University arguments for destroying her department's home. Kohler said that while he expected the University to tear down Smith Hall some time in the future, "it was an unpleasant surprise since it was presented very abruptly." "It was presented with the usual lack of tact we have come to expect from the development department which seems to have very little sense of students and faculty and staff," H & SS's Kohler said. Gravina said the University's decision was hard, but stressed that the new institute was in the best interest of students and faculty members. "It is important for the University community to understand that the mission of the University is education and the intent is to be a premiere institution of research and learning," Gravina said. H & SS Chairperson Rosemary Stevens said she is sad to be leaving Smith Hall, and said "if it does come down I'm concerned that really great architectural buildings go up in its place." "The University has had some poor architecture go up in the past," Stevens said, citing the complex at 3401 Walnut Street and Meyerson Hall as examples.Comments powered by Disqus
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