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38th Street and Hamilton Walk will be the location of the new Life Sciences building, slated to open in 2005. [John Byck/The Daily Pennsylvanian]

After removing 42 trees and bulldozing greenhouse facilities, workers are set to begin construction on the new Life Sciences building.

The $57 million project -- which will add 57,000 square feet of laboratory space to the Biology Department upon opening in 2005 -- has been controversial since planning began approximately five years ago.

The building will add much-needed facilities and technologically up-to-date resources to the Biology Department, according to officials. Yet, the choice of location has spurred students and faculty to protest the harms to the BioPond Garden.

"It does look kind of like a war zone," BioPond Garden manager Tracylea Byford said of the tree stump-ridden construction site.

"People call it progress, but I would have preferred that there was another solution," Byford added.

Yet, given cost and space constraints, this site was the only workable solution, according to University officials.

"One of the very important things [about] life science is that it's increasingly collaborative," School of Arts and Sciences Associate Dean David Balamuth said, noting that the Biology Department currently spans four buildings.

"You want to be able to walk down the hall to your colleague and say, 'Can I use your widget to do this test?'" Balamuth said.

The majority of the Biology Department resides in Leidy Laboratories. To maintain Leidy and simultaneously create a contiguous Biology Department space "essentially locks in the site," according to Balamuth.

Officials also considered the grassy area between Goddard Laboratories and Hamilton Walk, ruling it out because Goddard is considered a historical building.

Abandoning Leidy to move the entire Biology Department "would obviously cost a lot more" and therefore was not reasonable, according to Balamuth.

Yet, BioPond advocates worry that the garden -- which once spanned five acres, but has been encroached upon in multiple construction projects -- has not been given enough priority.

"At some point you have to say, 'This is a sacred cow, and we're going to set a precedent,'" Byford said. "You can't say that this is a sacred cow, but we're just going to eat one leg."

Calling trees a "premium" in Penn's urban environment, Byford added, "As far as value to the community... it's immeasurable."

The construction technically removed only 3 percent of the garden, but the figure is a "misleading number" because of the high density of trees that were in the construction path, according to Byford.

BioPond Garden staffers also noted that construction could cause further damage, endangering plant life by placing remaining parts of the garden in the shade.

"It's not that we won't have a garden, but it won't be the same," Byford said. "If you look at the numbers and types of flowers you can plant in the shade... it's like having the smallest box of Crayolas."

Many students were unaware of construction plans, but placed value on the BioPond Garden's preservation.

"I like the turtles," College of General Studies student Michael Khoury said.

"I think [the garden is] a nice place for people to be able to go."

Noting her distaste for the construction plans, Veterinary graduate student Layla Swanson said, "On general principle, I think parks are more important than buildings."

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