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Advanced building structure offers real chemistry

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The first U.S. project to employ the voided-slab system also happens to be located on the UW–Madison campus. It’s the LaBahn Arena, which opened in 2012 at 105 E. Campus Mall and is home to the UW women’s ice hockey team.

Given their inherent advantages, why aren’t these systems used more often? Aside from the need for buy-in from multiple project stakeholders, Windorski cited promotional needs. “Marketing is the primary reason, just to get the information out there,” he states. “If you looked online, there is a lot more information than even a year ago. As a field, structural engineering is very conservative. There is a lot of responsibility to protect safety of general public, so it’s a very slow-moving process. It’s not the computer industry where technology is changing on a daily basis. It’s a much slower process to do something new.”

57 years and counting

According to the UW, the original chemistry structures were built in 1962 and 1965, and most of the teaching labs and lecture halls have not been updated since then. In 2000, there was an addition in the form of Shain Tower, named for the late Irving Shain, a former UW chancellor, which brought 20 research modules for faculty, graduate students, and other researchers.

The current building project actually dates back even further. In 1996, UW faculty identified the need for additional teaching laboratory space, but it was another 13 years before the university acquired the land necessary for new construction. In 2015, the state allocated $91 million for a new chemistry facility, but it required the UW to raise $45 million before work could commence. With plans to further increase undergraduate enrollment in the forthcoming years, the project’s 2018 groundbreaking came in the nick of time.

The building project will be completed in two phases, with the new tower slated for completion in early 2021, and then the renovation of the existing building’s Daniels wing, which cannot begin until the space is vacated, should be done by the spring of 2022. In contrasting the planned facility with what’s there now — 1960s-era labs that have been heavily used and are beat up and worn down — McMahon views the upgrade as long overdue.

“It’s embarrassing to the flagship institution that freshmen come to campus and had better laboratories in their high school than they do right here,” he states. “It’s a little harder to convey to students the sense of enthusiasm about science and why it’s exciting and that it’s cutting edge and that it’s modern, but we know the facilities are not going to be holding us back on creating a very positive first impression on students when they come into that new building.”

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