Construction Kicks Off on UConn’s Transformational New Science Quad

An architect's conception of what the Northwest Science Quad will look like from above once construction is completed.
An architect's conception of what the Northwest Science Quad will look like from above once construction is completed. (Courtesy of Payette)

A transformational science complex that ties together UConn’s research expansion, academic vision, and culture of innovation will soon start to take shape on the Storrs campus with the recent start of construction at the site.

The Northwest Science Quad, a complex that includes a 198,000-square-foot modern research facility and related amenities, is a cornerstone of the Next Generation Connecticut program adopted by the Connecticut General Assembly in 2013 to expand research and education in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math).

The project site is generally located on 15 acres south of the Lodewick Visitors Center and King Hill Road, and bounded to the east by Hillside Road and the south by Alumni Drive, including the area that formerly housed the Spirit Rock before it was moved recently to a nearby site. More than half of the site was previously developed as parking lots.

In addition to construction of a new building to be known as Science 1, the Northwest Science Quad project includes a Supplemental Utility Plant (SUP), a passive open space corridor running east-west through the property, an extension of the existing utility tunnel and associated parking.

The remaining parking lots on the property were closed over the last few months in preparation for the project, which includes finishing the SUP and the Science 1 building in 2022. If all remains on schedule, the research labs and other facilities inside the high-tech building would be ready to use by fall 2022.

“This project is a crucial step forward in the state’s investment in UConn as an engine for innovation and economic development in Connecticut,” says Carl W. Lejuez, UConn’s provost and executive vice president for academic affairs. “It also builds on one of President Katsouleas’s key priorities to boost entrepreneurship and research funding. I am excited to see these new facilities start to take shape and enhance the resources available to our faculty, staff, and students to advance Connecticut as a leading hub of STEM innovation.”

An architect's drawing of the Northwest Science Quad, currently under construction
Conceptual view of the Northwest Science Quad (Courtesy of Payette)

The Science 1 building will be one of UConn’s largest and most technologically advanced facilities and will house research, teaching and core laboratories; a 240-seat active-learning room to engage students more dynamically than traditional lecture halls; along with faculty offices, public spaces including a new cafe, administrative support offices, and informal gathering spaces.

“As a state, the growth of our STEM-related industries is crucial for our economy,” says Kazem Kazerounian, dean of the UConn School of Engineering. “In order for our companies to keep moving forward, we need talent that will rise to meet the challenges and shifting consumer tastes inherent in these industries; these new facilities create that workforce.”

The building’s labs include traditional “wet” labs with chemicals, liquids, and other substances used for testing and analysis; along with “dry” labs where computer-generated models are created using computers for investigating a wide array of material science applications.

It also includes a “clean room,” a space designed to support specialized scientific research in a tightly controlled environment where contamination is minimized to protect the work by filtering airborne dust or other particulates from within the room.

“The plans for labs in Science 1 will bring to the forefront state-of-the-art facilities for interdisciplinary teaching, research, and outreach,” says Steven L. Suib, UConn Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor in chemistry and director of the Institute of Materials Science, the largest UConn academic enterprise that will move from the nearby Gant Science Complex to the new building.

“The new interactive learning room will be used by many on campus,” Suib says. “Several core lab facilities will also allow researchers to carry out new research, sensitive projects, and provide opportunities for large multi-disciplinary activities with considerable outreach to researchers from industry as well as government labs.”

Juli Wade, dean of the UConn College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, adds that the new facility “will allow UConn to take full advantage of our extraordinary potential for interdisciplinary research.”

“Even in this time of stress to the University and the State, this development will foster innovations that will improve people’s lives,” she says.

The Northwest Science Quad (NWSQ) construction project involves several moving parts in terms of its schedule, since the nearby Gant complex is also undergoing renovations and modernization and the new SUP which will provide utility services — including chilled water and steam to meet heating and cooling loads — for both complexes.

The Supplemental Utility Plant will connect via underground infrastructure to the Central Utility Plant on Glenbrook Road. The SUP project also includes electrical upgrades to significantly improve the campus electrical distribution system.

The schedules for the Gant renovation and Science 1 construction are being managed in tandem, since renovations in Gant’s north tower cannot begin until the new building opens and the occupants move from Gant into the new space.

Science 1 is also designed to incorporate best practices in sustainability and energy efficiency, including having a rooftop solar array and targeting a minimum goal of LEED Gold certification and certification of the NWSQ under the Sustainable SITES Initiative program.

Michael Schrier, Storrs campus architect and director of design and STEM projects for University Planning, Design & Construction (UPDC), said the new Science 1 building will have many cutting-edge sustainable features.

This project is a crucial step forward in the state’s investment in UConn as an engine for innovation and economic development in Connecticut. — Provost Carl W. Lejuez

“They will reduce energy usage, improve thermal comfort, optimize energy performance and incorporate on-site renewable energy systems,” says Schrier, who has overall responsibility for the Northwest Science Quad development for UPDC. “Specific building components include a high-performance envelope with triple-pane glazing that has an extremely low thermal rate of transfer (U-Value), high-efficiency fume hoods, heat recovery systems that capture heat from the lab exhaust system, and a new 520 KW photovoltaic array on the roof of the building.”

Significant improvements planned at the site also include providing more than 4 acres of open space and performative landscapes containing indigenous shade trees, green infrastructure for stormwater management and a conservation area for pollinator species.

King Hill Road will also be reconstructed for improved safety and access, and a dedicated turn lane to the North Garage and the adjacent roundabout will replace the intersection of Hillside Road and Alumni Drive. A new parking area for approximately 175 vehicles will also be added across from the Visitor Center.

“It has been very rewarding to participate in a planning and design process over the past six years that will result in an exterior space that will be as memorable and meaningful as the signature building that will occupy it,” says Sean Vasington ’99 (CAHNR), director of site planning & landscape architecture for UPDC.

“The site development will help UConn meet its environmental goals for stormwater management while providing habitat for flora, fauna and humans alike,” he adds.

UConn was able to move forward with the Northwest Science Quad construction despite the current COVID-19 pandemic and its associated financial constraints because the project was already “shovel ready,” meaning all of the planning, design and bidding were already in place.

The funding comes from state bonds sold to support the Next Generation Connecticut initiative, which are separate from UConn’s operating budget and cannot be moved to help pay for salaries, student services, and other annual operating expenses.

The legislature and then-Gov. Dannel P. Malloy approved Next Gen Connecticut in 2013 to expand UConn’s education and research vitality to benefit the state economy, and has already borne fruit with construction of the new Engineering & Science Building in 2018, the expansion of several critical academic programs, the relocation of the former West Hartford campus in 2017 to its current location in the heart of downtown Hartford, and other initiatives.