Leo Braces for Summer Construction as Higgins Progress Continues


Structural steel erection and concrete slab casting is all but complete in the new Patricia & Cornelius J. Higgins ‘63 Science and Engineering Center, as the Leo Engineering Building next door prepares for extensive summer renovations.

“I’m pleased to see the progress that’s going on in [Higgins],” Tim J. Ward, Ph.D., dean of the School of Engineering, said. “I’m also pleased to see the progress that’s going on inside of Leo.”

With the structural components of the Higgins building complete, the focus has now shifted to turning that structure into an occupiable building. Right now, the contractors are working to install HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) systems, electrical systems and plumbing.

Some equipment – like the acid waste system – has already arrived to the site.

“All of the [wastewater from labs] goes through special piping and goes down through the acid waste system before it gets discharged to the city,” Vice President of Facilities Andrew J. Ryan said. “The system measures the pH content of the effluent and then adds either acid or base as needed… so you discharge it fairly neutral.”

The new Higgins facade will also begin to progress soon, with factory tests occuring by the end of the month.

“They basically do a mockup of the facade,” Ryan said of the tests. That mockup is then tested for resistance against wind, rain and air leakage to ensure a good seal on the building.

“It also gives the design team and the contractor a chance to look at opportunities for various connection points,” Ryan said. “That becomes the model for what has to be done out in the field.”

Next door, Leo’s big shuffle is well underway.

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Aerial views of the Higgins Science and Engineering Center construction site on 238th Street. STEPHEN ZUBRYCKY / THE QUADRANGLE

Offices for the biology department have been completely relocated to a new suite on the third floor. That vacated space has been converted into the new biology research lab, which opened in March. Down the hall, Leo 401, which used to house the biology research lab, is completely gutted, and will be converted into another biology lab and a new environmental engineering lab.

Plans for the fourth floor do not end there.

“Immediately after the end of exams, we swoop in and start demolishing Fischbach,” Ryan said. The Fischbach space will be occupied by environmental engineering labs, which will move from Room 312. Plans for the vacated space from those labs have not been finalized.

According to Ward, the college currently intends to preserve and keep the collection of vacuum tubes housed in Fischbach.

The chemical engineering lab and office on that floor will also be renovated this summer. Part of that lab and all of the offices will be ready for fall classes.

Ryan hopes to fully complete the fourth floor work by Spring 2020.

On the first floor, renovations to labs on the west side of the building will resume after classes end.

“When classes are finished, we then have access to those labs,” Ryan said. “So we can start emptying stuff out.”

The departments who use the existing spaces in that area are gearing up to have work done.

“We are packing. We are hoping to get our labs back on time for the beginning of the fall semester,” Anirban De, professor and chair of civil engineering said. “That’s our big concern. We want to make sure we have no delay in getting our lab classes going at the start of the semester.”

The civil engineering department uses the fluid mechanics, geotechnical, concrete and solid mechanics labs on that floor. The materials lab, which is used by chemical engineering and mechanical engineering, will also be updated.

The newly renovated labs will have new flooring, audio-visual components, improved climate control and lighting, as well as windows into the hallway.

“If you walk on the… west side hallway of Leo basement, you look [and see] just cinder block walls, and you do not know what is behind those walls,” De said about the existing, windowless hallways. “It could be very well be storage closets… you do not know that there are pretty nice labs behind them.”

The aesthetic improvements are slated to match the style of the first floor geotechnical laboratory completed in 2017.

“We’re using the same case work in the [first floor] labs as we used in the [new geotechnical lab],” Ryan said.

The college plans to renovate the former Leo Cafeteria into a fully-functional meeting and study space with new seating, tables, climate control and technology. The new cafeteria will also have private meeting rooms, available for use by student clubs, and a dedicated room for the Society of Women Engineers.

“We don’t want to see that institutional style,” Ward said of the cafeteria renovation.

Ryan is not sure if the Leo Cafeteria component of the project will take this summer.

So far, progress is continuing with few bumps. Ryan expects Higgins to be fully enclosed by the end of the summer and open for Fall 2020.