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People relax in the BioPond garden, which is considered to be an oasis on the Penn campus and in the West Philadelphia area. The new Life Sciences building will threaten the 38th Street side of the BioPond garden.[Ben Rosenau/The Summer Pennsylvanian]

Although planning efforts for the new Life Sciences Building are well underway, there has been rising concern among members of the University and West Philadelphia community as to how this structure will impact its surroundings.

The Life Sciences Building, which is set to begin its first phase of construction in the summer of 2003, will stand next to Leidy Labs on Hamilton Walk. Yet the new structure will also be located in close proximity to the BioPond -- a botanical garden that is widely used both by Penn researchers and community members.

As a result, many people are worried that parts of the BioPond garden will be damaged or destroyed throughout the building process.

"The biggest concern is that construction doesn't occur in a vacuum," BioPond Garden manager Tracylea Byford said. "If you look at the Quadrangle, Huntsman Hall or any construction at all, there's always damage to the surrounding area, whether it's the road or trees or plants."

In particular, Byford noted that a number of trees will be cut down during construction, and that the building will ultimately cast a shadow over some of the spaces in the garden that currently receive sunlight.

Nevertheless, administrators say that they recognize both the educational and aesthetic value of the BioPond Garden, and that they have done all that they can to minimize the damage that it may incur

during the building process.

"The School of Arts and Sciences has been very proactive in earning money to maintain and preserve the garden," School of Arts and Sciences Associate Dean and Life Sciences Building Committee chairman David Balamuth said.

"The biology faculty has been very persistent that the site be used in a way to preserve the essential part of the garden."

In addition to securing funding for substantial renovations in the garden over the past two years, Balamuth said that the Life Sciences Building planning committee has worked to ensure that the new building will not significantly impact the shading in the garden.

Still, these efforts have not satisfied everyone. The Friends of the BioPond, a group of students, staff and community members, have expressed their continual concern about the garden's welfare by staging a protest and by being involved in other efforts to preserve the green space.

Friends of the BioPond member Richard Rogers said that the University could have avoided this struggle by simply choosing a different location for the building.

"We understand that Penn does own the property, but as far as the members of the community are concerned, we want the lovely BioPond and garden to remain as they are," Rogers (CAS '73) said. "The additional building that they want to construct is an intrusion to the area."

According to Balamuth, however, the decision to build on the current site is a lot more complex than it might seem.

Balamuth said that the new Life Sciences Building was designed to house the Biology and Psychology departments -- along with parts of the Genomics Institute -- in order to foster interactions between the three areas of study.

"Penn's faculty believes that these different kinds of biologies have a lot to say to each other, and will have even more to say to each other as science progresses," Balamuth said. "You wouldn't want to have half the department at one part of the campus and the other somewhere else -- that would impede intellectual connections."

Ultimately, the new Life Sciences building will be connected to Leidy Labs -- the facility where most of the Biology Department is currently located. At the moment, the only site that can accommodate this structure happens to be very close to the BioPond.

"The phase one building is going to go on the site that is presently occupied by two greenhouses and a waste consolidation facility," Balamuth said. "It is certainly not the case that this building is being built on the site of the garden -- it will be adjacent to the garden."

In spite of the various measures that the planning committee has taken, emotions have been flying high as the Life Sciences Building's groundbreaking date approaches.

"I know that they need this building, but I love this garden -- it's painful for me to see any parts of it destroyed," Byford said. "I am really torn."

Rogers added that many community members resent the University for slowly impinging on the BioPond garden over the past few decades.

"Originally, the BioPond covered five acres, but it has been encroached upon progressively," Rogers said. "At this stage, we feel as though our backs are up against the wall."

In the end, however, Balamuth said that the main purpose of the Life Sciences building -- to keep the University's research efforts up to speed with competing institutions -- could not be overlooked.

"We've realized for a long time that Penn's life sciences facilities

are not up to what should be expected," Balamuth said. "It has been one of the highest priorities as a school to address this need, and it's important to us, the faculty and the students as well."

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