A city historical panel last week gave the University the go-ahead to demolish Smith Hall, removing a major barrier from the administration's attempts to build a new multi-million dollar science center. Students and faculty members have protested the planned demolition for over a year, but the Philadelphia Historic Preservation Commission had decided that the science center would be a better use of the Smith Walk site. The century-old hall was classified as a historic building two years ago by the commission because its architecture was considered revolutionary at the time of its construction. Major medical advancements occured in the building as well. The historical designation prevented the University from altering or destroying the building without permission from the commission. Both administrators and opponents of the plan testified before the commission during three hearings. Students and faculty members who opposed the demolition said razing the building would contribute to the destruction of campus history. University officials, led by Vice President for Facilities Management Arthur Gravina, maintained the site was the only practical place on campus for the proposed science center. The commission sided with the University, ruling that the science center would be a better use for the site and that prohibiting demolition of the building would be costly for the University. The University must now get permission from a state historic society and cannot demolish the hall until funding for the institute is in place. Smith Hall currently houses the History and Sociology of Science and Fine Arts departments. The University plans to build the Institute of Advanced Science and Technology on the site. The institute, which administrators predict will be completed by 1994, will provide new laboratory space for engineering and science departments. The administration is preparing to apply for a $10 million Department of Defense grant to pay for the new institute. The commission's ruling will help the University's efforts to secure funding since it can now give specifics about the institute to the government. Vice President Gravina said yesterday the science building is a "top priority" of the administration, adding that the University will find the money elsewhere if the government does not grant the funds for it. "We are prepared to move forward even if we have to go in debt for it," Gravina said. Some H&SS; faculty and students were outraged by the commission's decision and said they will continue to fight to preserve their historic home. Many attended the hearings last month, and will meet this week and next week to decide what their next move will be. Fine Arts will be relocated to the Hajoca Building across from the Class of 1928 Ice Rink, and H&SS; will be temporarily housed at the University Science Center, at 34th and Market Streets, a location which department members say is unsafe and too far from campus for student accessibility.Comments powered by Disqus
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