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U-M to build new Molecular Biology Building

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U-M eyes molecular biology building State-of-the-art facility would replace Kraus labs

Monday, December 6, 2004

BY DAVE GERSHMAN

News Staff Reporter

The University of Michigan is drawing up plans to build another modern science building, this time for molecular biology, on university-owned land off Washtenaw Avenue.

A "state-of-the-art" research building for the molecular biology department is being eyed for a site just south of the new Life Sciences Institute, said Terrence McDonald, dean of the College of Literature, Science and the Arts.

The project is still at the earliest stages of consideration, though it is gaining momentum within the university's administration. There is no timetable for bringing it to the Board of Regents for approval, said U-M spokeswoman Diane Brown.

Still, McDonald's comments in a state-of-the-college address to students last week show the university has been developing plans for the project since U-M President Mary Sue Coleman named it as one of her top priorities in September.

Recently, McDonald told students, he and other staff went to the West Coast to tour a new biology research building at the California Institute of Technology.

Richard Hume, chairman of molecular, cellular and developmental biology, said a team of architects has been hired to do a programming study. The architects are meeting with staff to decide what type of facility is needed. Hume said the tentative plans call for a facility that would be 175,000 to 200,000 square feet.

Currently, the department's research laboratories are in the Kraus Natural Science Building, on North University Avenue. The building was constructed in the 1910s. It is also home to laboratories for the ecology and evolutionary biology department.

Modern research laboratories require power, heating and cooling systems that are substantially more powerful than the designers of the Kraus Building could have envisioned. Biology students often work with large pieces of equipment that are not easily accommodated in the Kraus Building. In addition, there are plans to grow the molecular biology faculty, but there is no space right now for them.

Constructing the new research building next to the Life Sciences complex makes sense, Hume said, because the complex includes the undergraduate science building, which is currently under construction. That building will have classrooms for molecular biology.

"It will allow us to much more easily do research that demands interaction with multiple labs and uses large pieces of equipment," Hume said about a new biology research building, "because those are things that our current building really makes it quite difficult to do."

By April, Hume would like to have a detailed plan for the new building to take to U-M's top administrators, he said, "to see if that's the building they want to build." Then administrators would need to seek the approval of the Board of Regents to hire an architect to actually design the building, and then begin construction. Students are thrilled with news of the project, even if they might graduate by the time it opens.

"If we're trying to be on the cutting edge," of research, said Sarah Earle, a fifth-year student in general biology, "a (new) building is a great place to start."

Brown said planners have not decided on a budget for the project, or how it would be funded. The site still needs to pass a feasibility study, and other locations are being reviewed as well. "This is in the very beginning stages," she said.

Reporter Dave Gershman can be reached at (734) 994-6818 or [email protected]

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