By, Jocelyn Visnov & Caroline McCarthy, Asst. Production Editor & Asst. Features Editor
After breaking ground in the Spring of 2018, The Higgins Engineering and Science Center is open to students and staff for the Fall 2021 semester.
Located on South Campus, the Higgins Engineering and Science Center (Higgins) was built adjacent to Leo Hall. COVID-19 safety precautions prohibit a grand opening, but students and faculty alike are excited to finally get inside the newest building on campus for classes, study rooms and labs.
The new science center was part of a series of upgrades made to improve the south side of campus, as well as expand academic opportunities for the departments housed inside.
According to Dean of Engineering Tim Ward, Ph.D., the Higgins building was projected to increase enrollment by 10- 15% before COVID-19 derailed college admission numbers.
“All bets are off now,” said Ward. “Here in the northeast there’s a decline in the number of high school graduates… many of the school of engineering students [about 88%] came from New York. If there’s a decline of students from New York, there’s going to be a decline for students in the School of Engineering.”
Although it is not expected that enrollment percentages will meet prior projections, the building is still producing ample opportunities for the school to expand and foster a more advanced education for its students through study spaces, classrooms and most prominently, laboratories for chemistry, physics, biology, chemical engineering, civil engineering and mechanical engineering.
“The building itself has laboratories in it, that is primarily what it’s used for; laboratories and spaces for projects,” Ward said.
In addition to it’s labs and classrooms, the new facility is equipped with spaces for students of any major to study or work on projects. Several clubs on campus, such as the Society of Women Engineers, are allowed to use these spaces for team meetings as well.
Higgins also provides a new congregation space for the MC community. Surrounded three ways by Higgins and Leo Hall, a new courtyard lawn is expected to be used for events or recreation before and after classes.
As a campus tour guide, junior Chris Machol has been leading potential Jaspers through the new building all summer. By giving campus tours, Chris was able to become quite familiar with the renovated South Campus, stating his favorite room is the new state-of-the-art biology lab.
“I was incredibly impressed the first time I walked into the building,” Machol said. “It’s incredibly modern and a marvel of engineering, truly a testament to our engineering department.”
An even more impressive testament was Manhattan College alumni’s involvement in the planning and execution of the building. According to the Manhattan College website, two current students and dozens of alumni were a part of the architectural, construction, design and management process of building Higgins.
“There’s a lot of different contractors that have hired our alumni,” Ward said. “So it was this nice thing about this building, a lot of Manhattan College engineers were involved.”
Silman, the structural engineering firm that oversaw the structural design of the building, was entirely composed of Manhattan alums. The team consisted of Paul Evans, Justin Den Herder, Greg Koch and former President of Silman, Joe Tortorella.
Paul Evans, current adjunct professor and former Manhattan College student was one of the lead structural engineers in the building. Evans, alongside other structural engineers, designed the steel frame that serves as the skeleton of the building.
“Being able to use the skills I learned just next door in Leo to help design the new Higgins building was a truly unique experience,” Evans said. “I’m happy I was able to give back to the school and help create new spaces for future Jaspers, especially engineers, to learn and grow!”
Current Manhattan College staff were also given the opportunity to consult on the project.
“Early in the project, they decided to have representatives from the School of Engineering on the steering committee,” civil and environmental engineering department chairperson Anirban De, Ph.D said. “I was representing my department and the School of Engineering. Our team was always part of that in terms of providing feedback on how it benefits the school, our students, etc.”
De explained that the Higgins building was created by different voices being translated into a feasible building design by the head architect.
While classes officially begin in Higgins at the start of the fall semester, students in several engineering and science courses became familiar with Higgins before the building was complete.
According to De, various engineering students observed and analyzed both the design and construction of Higgins while it was being built as part of their senior capstone project last Spring.
“While we were doing the construction we requested access for Civil Engineering Students to visit the building. We were able to bring students for tours of the building,” De said.
Tours were facilitated by Vice President of Facilities Dr. Randy Ryan and contractor representatives and meant to provide real world experience for Manhattan’s Civil Engineering Students.
Higgins and Leo Hall now stand as one to create a modern academic experience on south campus. To accommodate for the addition of the all new facilities, Leo Hall underwent several renovations as well. This includes modern updates to study spaces and classrooms.
As with any project this size, Higgins was not built without a few setbacks. The building was originally slated to open in the fall of 2020. However construction was put on hold when the campus went fully remote in March of 2020 due to COVID-19. Mandatory updates of fire alarm systems in both Leo and Higgins caused minor delays as well.
“There are always setbacks in real projects,” De said.“It was meant to open about a year earlier but it didn’t for understandable reasons.”
The creation and renovation of south campus facilities was made possible by a series of generous donors. The new building itself was named for MC alumni Cornelius (Neil) Higgins ‘62 and his wife Patricia Higgins.
Both students of the sciences, the couple donated a gift of 5 million dollars towards the new building.
In an interview with Pete McHugh from 2018, Patricia Higgins explained that she and her husband “felt as though we needed to do this.”
“We’re both first generation college students. Contributing to Manhattan, with its support of first generation students, is very important for us,” Patricia Higgins said.
“Manhattan College had the greatest influence on what I had to do after graduation, provided me with an excellent basis, both moral and academic, to continue in graduate education and in an engineering career.” Neil Higgins said.