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Chemistry buildings

An aerial view looking northwest towards the Chemistry Building (center) with the Medical Sciences Center in the background. The university’s Chemistry Building Complex is bounded by University Avenue and West Johnson, North Mills, and North Charter streets and includes the ten-story Daniels Building, seven-story Mathews Building and the seven-story Shain Research Center.

A $112 million nine-story renovation of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Daniels Chemistry Building, slated for opening in the fall of 2019, would bring a “generation behind” science facility up to date, chemistry department chair Robert McMahon said Friday.

“It’s hard to convey a sense of the excitement of science in these antiquated facilities,” McMahon said.

The project would remove 39,800 square feet of the Daniels Building, including the north wall facing University Avenue, and demolish the two-story former Abiel Brooks Residence at 1121 University Ave. That building is attached to the eastern wall of The Crossing, a campus Christian ministry located just to the west of Daniels on University.

The state approved $86 million for the first phase of the project, and the university is fundraising the rest, Gary Brown, director of Campus Planning and Landscape Architecture, said. The Board of Regents and State Building Commission is set to act on the decision in December.

Construction is expected to begin in the fall of 2017 and be completed in the fall of 2019, Brown said.

Though the Brooks residence was originally constructed in 1851 as a private residence and later acquired by the Wesley Foundation, the Madison Landmarks Commission previously determined the building has no known historic value. Brooks was an early builder in Madison who made his fortune in the 1849 California gold rush.

Genie Ogden, a distant relative of Brooks who does not own the property, has expressed concern about demolishing the house because she said it is part of Madison’s history.

"The Brooks's sold land to the University so they could build the Chemistry (Building) and other buildings,” Ogden wrote in a letter to the city. “I find it ironic that the UW now wants to destroy their home.”

The new and renovated space would include classrooms, lecture halls, labs, offices and support spaces from the basement through the eighth floor. Space for mechanical equipment is reserved on the ninth floor.

“It’s an important project for us because chemistry and the intro level classes feed a lot of the other departments,” Brown said. “It’s become a backlog for us because we can't provide the services we need for the students who need to take those courses.”

The chemistry department is “exploding” with new students, McMahon said, and the renovation would help retain students — approximately 7,000 undergraduates each semester. One in every five students choose to take an organic chemistry lab at another institution to stay on track for graduation because classes fill up, McMahon said.

“It’s an embarrassment that at the flagship campus they are learning the introductory classes in these beat up, worn down facilities that don't offer anywhere near modern ventilation standards,” McMahon said.

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McMahon said the department is also working to implement the REACH project, a change in curriculum that aims to transform large introductory lecture classes into more active learning environments — a near impossibility in the current crowded lecture halls.

“When we have this facility, we will have the finest facilities on the scale of big major research institutions,” McMahon said.

The university’s Chemistry Building complex is bounded by University Avenue and West Johnson, North Mills, and North Charter streets and includes the ten-story Daniels Building, seven-story Mathews Building and the seven-story Shain Research Center. The northwestern corner of the block is occupied by The Crossing, the only non-university building in the 0.46 acre lot.

Architecturally, the design of the building will reflect a modern interpretation of the original 1967 Daniels Building and will include a tower feature at the corner of University Avenue and North Mills Street. Exterior materials include a combination of terracotta and aluminum panels as well as glass curtain walls.

To deter pedestrians from crossing University Avenue mid-block and to enhance landscaping along the corridor, the university plans to reconstruct the sidewalk along the avenue and add a planting bed between the new sidewalk and existing curb. Updates to the heating, ventilation and cooling system would also decrease the level of noise emitted by the current system, Brown said. 

The Plan Commission recommends approval of the project and will vote on the plan at its next meeting Monday in Room 201 of the City-County Building, 210 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.

This article was corrected to show that the approximate number of undergraduate students taking a chemistry each semester at UW-Madison is 7,000.

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Abigail Becker joined The Capital Times in 2016, where she primarily covers city and county government. She previously worked for the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism and the Wisconsin State Journal.