by STEPHEN ZUBRYCKY, Managing Editor
Construction on the $62 million Patricia & Cornelius J. Higgins ‘62 Science and Engineering Center is underway. The new building, which will sit on the same lot as the existing Leo Engineering Building, will house new labs for Manhattan College’s science and engineering departments, and is slated to open in 2020.
Following a ceremonial groundbreaking last spring, work on the site began in earnest during the summer.
Foundation work began in early August with pile-driving, which continued until the start of classes.
“Over the summer, after getting all the permits and everything, we did the site preparation. We just finished doing the installation of piles,” Andrew Ryan said. Ryan is the college’s Vice President of Facilities.
The piles, which are steel tubes roughly a foot in diameter, reach depths averaging over 100 feet. All told, eighty individual piles were driven, spread out between in 45 locations.
Higgins’ foundation is deep for a reason – the building sits on soft soil that is rich in organics and is not well suited for a shallower design.
“That used to be Spuyten Duyvil Creek […] and many moons ago that got relocated, rerouted,” Ryan said. “So there’s a lot of organic material that’s down there.”
The concrete blocks that rest atop the piles – called pile caps – have also begun. The pile caps must first be formed, using pieces of wood arranged to form a mold, and then poured.
After that, the concrete slab that will form the building’s ground floor will be poured. Ryan expects this to be done within a few weeks.
By Christmas, Ryan predicts that the building’s structural steel will be fully erected.
“We [will start] with the steel at the southeast corner,” Ryan said. “We’ll start there and work our way around the building.”
The college is trying its best to manage construction noise issues as classes continue.
“There has been some noise issues. […] and it has disrupted things, but I think as we go forward, [Ryan] and the project managers will have those better under control,” Engineering Dean Tim J. Ward, Ph.D., said. “When you got building projects going on it gets noisy.”
The construction of a brand new building on campus has presented unique educational opportunities for the college’s engineering programs.
“In terms of the pile driving, the subsurface conditions, and those types of things, Dr. [Anirban] De [of the civil engineering department] has received a lot of material from [Ryan] so Dr. De can use it in some of the geotechnical courses,” Ward said. “As the building goes up, we will be sharing the plans in terms of the structural elements with the structures folks and also we have the systems in there… so both the electrical and the mechanical folks will want to look at those to see how those are laid out.”
Live video of the construction progress is available at https://leo-construction.click2stream.com/.
Making Way for Higgins
In the existing Leo, rooms are starting to be shuffled around to make way for the new building. “In the southwest part of Leo, starting from the basement level, we took out various sections going up in a vertical column there, because that’s where the new building connects,” Ryan said. The closures affected the civil and environmental engineering department, whose office suite was cut in half, and the mechanical engineering department’s mini-Baja garage.
The new Higgins Center will occupy the space formerly used for faculty parking at Leo. According to Juan E. Cerezo, the college’s director of public safety, the permanent closure of the Leo lot has eliminated 76 parking spaces.
According to Cerezo, faculty will now have to park across Tibbett Avenue, at what is being called the “GPAC Lot” (Gaelic Park Athletic Center), where roughly 30 parking spaces will become available following the completion of construction in the former Robert A. Mahan Physical Plant Building.
Faculty are also able to park in the 678-spot Broadway Garage, where access to Broadway via the south gate has been extended to 10 p.m. Public Safety is planning to add an ID scanner on Broadway soon.
Public safety is managing the higher demand in the structure as best they can.
“We’ve been monitoring it daily now, like taking a count on each floor,” Associate Director of Public Safety and Risk Management Peter DeCaro said. “We haven’t run into a situation where there aren’t any [spaces] available.”
According to Cerezo, there are typically at least a few dozen available parking spaces in the Broadway facility during the peak hour.
DeCaro urges students to call 718-862-7853 if they are unable to find a parking spot.
“If you can’t find a spot, just tell our officer. We’ll find a spot for you,” Cerezo said.
The West 240th Street lot, located beneath the train tracks, is still reserved for students only.
The new Higgins facility will be a three story, L-shaped structure along Tibbett Avenue and West 238th Street. The building will connect to Leo at Leo’s southwest corner, on Tibbett, and wrap around what is being dubbed “a new Quadrangle,” in between Leo and Higgins.
At the connection with Leo, there will be a large atrium, stretching from the ground floor (the second) to the top floor (fourth). The atrium will tables and chairs to be used for lounging or studying.
According to partial floor plans released to The Quadrangle by Ryan, Higgins’ second floor will house five new labs. A new civil engineering projects lab will be located in the southwest corner, next to a dedicated lab for the college’s concrete canoe team.
“We are very excited to be receiving a concrete canoe lab in the new Higgins building,” Visiting Assistant Professor of Civil Engineering Christina Cercone, Ph.D., wrote in an email. “This lab will give student members a unique space where they can have group meetings, work on the design and even fabricate the canoe each year.”
Three general physics labs will be next located along the corridor, on the building’s southern face.
Labs for general biology will be located one floor up, in addition to a mechanical engineering projects lab. At the northern end of Higgins’ third floor will be the engineering science tissue suite, which contains a large main space, as well as smaller rooms for microfabrication, tissue culture, microscopy and a confocal room.
“It’s going to be a lab for both teaching and research in tissue engineering,” said Ehsan Atefi, Ph.D., assistant professor of mechanical engineering. Atefi has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering, and two doctorate degrees in biomedical engineering.
“It’s a good lab that [equips] students with all those techniques that they need to find [a] job in biomedical engineering, specifically related to tissue engineering, drug delivery, and those type of things,” Atefi said. The new lab will allow for the creation of a new tissue engineering lab class, to pair with Atefi’s lecture course on the subject.
The tissue lab will aid in the development of the mechanical engineering department’s biomechanics track.
Higgins’ top floor will have three new labs for general chemistry and a chemical engineering projects lab.
“It’s a wet lab,” said Richard F. Carbonaro, Ph.D., associate professor of chemical engineering. “The freshmen are going to do some of the freshman projects in that room, as well as the ‘Chem-E Car.”
Digital copies of the plans released to The Quadrangle are available on mcquad.org.
New Space in Leo for Chem-E
In addition to the new building, numerous renovations and repairs have begun in the existing Leo Engineering Building.
On the third floor, chemical engineering has just opened a pair of brand new research labs, including a state-of-the-art cosmetic engineering lab, with roughly $500,000 in new equipment – some of which the college paid for and some of which was donated or loaned on a long term basis.
“I started working with [Associate Professor Samiul] Amin on this lab, actually, starting in April,” said chemical engineering graduate student Denice Xu.
The new equipment includes a DLS machine, short for dynamic light scattering, and a $100,000, state-of-the-art rheometer.
“We are the only school that has that,” Xu said of the DLS machine, which helps to determine the size of particles in a solution. “We call it like the ‘Tesla of DLS,’ because it’s the best.” The rheometer is used to measure the rheological responses of mixtures, including properties like viscosity.
The second lab, which will be used primarily by Assistant Professor Avarind Suresh, Ph.D., who arrived at the college this fall, will be used to research chemical vapor deposition.
On the fourth floor, the chemical engineering department will be getting a brand new computer lab in the former Reynolds Room. As of Friday, installation of the 33 desktop units was underway.
Up the hall, the large undergraduate chemical engineering lab will be subdivided and given a full facelift.
“Coming summer, they plan to convert that undergraduate lab into an undergraduate lab plus four research labs,” Professor and Chair of Chemical Engineering Sasidhar Varanasi said.
“We got a little bit of checker game,” Ryan said of the shuffling of space going on in Leo.
The fourth floor’s Fischbach Room, presently a study space, will be converted into civil and environmental engineering labs. Plans for the large chunk of space on the third floor, which will be vacated following the departure of the general chemistry and civil and environmental labs, have not been finalized.
Room 401, the current biology research lab which bisects the fourth floor, will be divided to make space for civil and environmental engineering, as well as a new corridor connecting the two sides of the fourth floor. This research space will relocate to the western face of the building, where biology offices are currently located. These offices will move to a brand new, consolidated biology department suite in the former location of classrooms 318 and 319. Construction on this new suite began shortly before the start of classes.
These classrooms have, in turn, been replaced – by Leo 259, formerly a student lounge, and RLC 205, formerly a conference room.
This summer, the college plans to shift its attention downward to the first floor, where renovations are on deck for the concrete, materials, hydraulics, solid mechanics and geotechnical labs.
“Next summer, we’ll be doing all the labs on the west corridor. And those are used by civil, mechanical and chemical,” Ryan said. “What we did this summer was a lot of the prep work that we needed to do for that area so that we could deal with some of the mechanical issues.”
The Leo fire alarm modernization project is also slowly nearing completion.
“Dealing with fire alarms is extremely complicated in New York City,” Ryan said. “We hit a pause on there dealing with the timing of when we wanted to put that system in service, relative to all of the other construction projects that we have.”
Ryan expects the new fire alarm system to enter service by the spring semester.
Follow The Quadrangle for continued updates on Manhattan College’s changing campus.
A digital copy of the copy of the plans released to The Quadrangle by Andrew J. Ryan is available here.