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Wednesday, Feb 1, 2023

Renovated Willet Science Center to open this fall

Willet Science Center is being renovated to relocate several academic departments from their current buildings.
Willet Science Center is being renovated to relocate several academic departments from their current buildings.

Willet Science Center will re-open this fall, giving a new home to the psychology, computer science, public health and athletic training programs.

Last year, it was projected that construction would be completed in time for the 2019 spring semester. James Netherton, executive vice president for administration and finance, said that was “the most optimistic forecast.”

“We were pushing to try to get it done, but everything didn’t fall right,” he said. “When you do a major renovation, you don’t know all that you’re going to have to fix until you get into it, and we had a few unpleasant surprises.”

Renovations began in January 2018 and were set to involve lab structure and equipment tailored to each department it’s meant to house.

Environmental engineering classes will move into Willet in order to make more room for civil engineering classes.

“Civil engineering tends to be a bit dirtier practice, and the way to accommodate the needs of civil engineering really was to move somebody out of the engineering building,” Netherton said. “Environmental engineering was an easy one to move; the kinds of labs they need match perfectly with the kind of lab structure that was already there.”

While the psychology department’s rat lab was housed in Willet before, the faculty themselves were on the other side of campus. Now, they’ll all be in the same building.

“As long as anyone can remember, we’ve been in Wiggs,” Bill Jenkins, head of the psychology department, said. “Toward the end of the semester, when we’re already crazy-busy grading, we’re going to (be) packing up our office, (but) once we get there, we’re going to have a tremendous amount of space for research and classroom space and more laboratory space, so we’re excited, it’s just moving is never easy.”

The psychology department has been consulting with the architects responsible for the renovations since they began.  

“I’m thankful,” he said. “Originally the plan was to have us move mid-year and start this semester in the new building, but there have been some delays because of issues they discovered in the Willet center, but I’m actually - I think that’s a blessing because it would have been really difficult. I know biology did that, moving into the Godsey Science Center, and so I’m glad we have a bit more time.”

Wiggs is next on the list for renovations. Although it’s not confirmed what exactly will take the place of the psychology offices and classrooms, Jenkins said it is likely to be used for administration or the honors college.   

The computer science department will also have a floor to itself in the new Willet.

“Computer science will have better space, but it continues to change, and this will provide a bit more flexibility,” Netherton said.

Undergraduate public health and the athletic training master's program will share a floor in the renovated building.

“We’ve had the public health faculty put over on the ground floor of Newton Annex,” Netherton said. “Putting them in this building allows us to move all the faculty there, all of the classrooms in the same buildings. It works much better (with) the professors just down the hall than across campus.”

Russell Vullo, associate vice president for facilities, said that Willet will include an elevator certified by the Americans with Disabilities Act and one unisex bathroom per floor, according to an earlier report by The Cluster.

As for the old computer science building, Netherton said that it will be removed, and that plot of land will stand empty until Mercer replaces or expands the Connell Student Center.

“All of our construction projects have been done with an eye toward long-term planning - how is it going to meet our future needs, how is the campus going to evolve, and so there were quite a few steps here in anticipating the future,” Netherton said.

The Willet Science Center should be fully operational in time for the start of classes this fall.


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