Science Complex

Published 5-13-2002
  • Wilder Laboratory

    Photo courtesy of George B.H. Macomber Company © Hutchins Photography.

Dartmouth College recently completed a 270,000-sf multi-phased project to provide updated research and teaching facilities for a wide array of science departments. The four-building complex includes Steele Laboratory, Wilder Laboratory, Fairchild Tower, and the Fairchild Building.

Built in 1898, Wilder Laboratory houses the physics and astronomy departments. The building received a 20,000-sf addition containing offices, laboratories, and several student interaction areas off the main corridors. The original building contains renovated labs, offices, and classrooms, and a new elevator and mechanical infrastructure. This renovation consolidates activities that were previously spread over two different science buildings.

Wilder's most prominent new features are the two astronomy observation domes that grace the top of the building. The observatories contain new, smaller, and more powerful electronically operated telescopes, which are also electronically linked to a classroom. Since there are very few dome manufacturers in the United States, the lead times to receive domes are very long because of busy manufacturing schedules that include projects for NASA. A company in Mississippi fabricated the Dartmouth domes and then shipped them to New Hampshire for installation by the construction manager.

To accommodate the Wilder addition, 2,100 cubic yards of ledge was blasted out. All work was carried out immediately adjacent to occupied classrooms and laboratories. Vibrations were carefully monitored by a recording seismograph and kept to a minimum. Physics and astronomy students were able to view construction photos and a "movie" of the blasting on their department's Web site. Electromagnetic field shielding was installed in electrical rooms to protect nearby laboratory experiments.

Built in 1923 for the study of chemistry, Steele Laboratory also received complete internal renovations and a new penthouse for mechanical equipment. The most challenging work on Steele was removal of the existing roof and maintaining a watertight environment in order to build the mechanical penthouse. All work was done while most of the building was occupied. The design of the new glass-enclosed penthouse includes a copper roof that is consistent with Dartmouth's historic architecture.

Internally, Steele's original architecture received careful restoration of its wood-arched corridors and the installation of new woodwork respectful of the existing interior. Work included a new slate floor, lighting fixtures, elevator, paint, and stain. Complete replacement of the general chemistry teaching labs and the construction of two floors of faculty research labs are also part of the renovation work.

The laboratories feature new casework, both snorkel and traditional fume hoods, sinks, and chemical-resistant epoxy counters. The rubber flooring in some of the labs was fabricated in eight-foot sheets and welded together much like a hospital operating room floor. Six new high-speed Strobic fans exhaust the lab areas safely.

Specialty research labs in Steele include clean rooms and environmental rooms. In addition, the Geochemistry Department required a non-metallic lab to house a mass spectrometer used to search for trace elements in rocks. The lab uses plastic for fume hoods, ductwork, faucets, grilles, diffusers, and sprinkler head covers.

Renovations to Fairchild Tower, a five-story glass enclosed structure that connects the other three science buildings, include replacing the 1/4-inch exterior curtainwall glass with a high performance insulated glazing envelope to make it more energy efficient and comfortable, and installing new HVAC, lighting, millwork, casework, elevator, sprinklers, flooring, ceiling, and life safety upgrades.

Based upon a 1996 master plan created for Dartmouth, the Science Complex project involved several key challenges: minimize the number of double moves necessary by the staff; reduce the amount of swing space necessary; and design and construct the project within three years.

Several key initiatives enabled the team to meet its objectives:

Sharing CAD Files. CAD files supplied by the architect allowed the builder to create 3D models of the Science Complex, integrating cost and schedule information. The models allowed team members to quickly analyze and communicate the cost and schedule impact of options by department or geographical area. It also allowed the faculty and staff to make informed decisions in a more user-friendly environment.

Project Web Site. The use of a project Web site streamlined the decision-making process between team members located in New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Massachusetts.

Creative Scheduling. The new elevator core, along with other major activities, was scheduled during school breaks and vacations to avoid disruption and risk to student safety. In Steele Laboratory, structural enhancements to support the new penthouse were installed according to a room-by-room schedule honoring the individual vacation and day-to-day needs of the faculty members.

Centerbrook Architects and Planners
George B.H. Macomber Builders
Hallam Associates
Consultant - Structural Engineer
Supplier - Air Handlers
Honeywell Controls
Supplier - Automatic Temperature Controls
Stanley Elevator
Supplier - Elevators
Supplier - Fans