Restoring a campus classic

By Brandon Watson
April 01, 2010

Representing a sign of our economic recovery, the once shelved, Physics and Astronomy renovation is now well underway.

The much-anticipated renovation of the Physics and Astronomy Building has begun, with the completion of one of Western's oldest buildings scheduled for summer 2012. The centerpiece of the renovation will be the enclosed courtyard, with skylights allowing for year-round access for the building's tenants.
Physics and Astronomy is one of the two original buildings constructed for the university as it took up residence in the early 1920s on what had been Middlesex County farmland. Built at the same time was University College.
The $19-million project is scheduled in four phases with the final phase wrapping up in Summer 2012. This renovation is more than a facelift, providing much-needed structural upgrades to one of our campus' oldest buildings.
Physical Plant Project Manager, Fred Janzen notes similar to other large scale renovations at Western, significant attention is being paid to the preservation of the history of the building.
For example, the project has been carefully designed to virtually gut the building while maintaining its original character. All the beautiful limestone-framed windows are being replaced with high efficiency double-paned glass. The muntin or crosshatched pane divider will be replicated to match the current attractive style.
The HVAC and electrical systems are being completely replaced with more efficient technology.
The retrofits, especially the revamped utility equipment and metering capability are major components in achieving LEED Silver certification. In keeping with Western's commitment to the Canadian Green Building Council's Existing Building (EB) certification, all large scale renovations on campus are being designed and built using the LEED criteria.
Stevenson Hall and Lawson Hall will be the first with LEED (EB) designation on campus; Physics and Astronomy will be the second.
The centrepiece of the renovation will be the enclosed courtyard.
Currently, the Physics and Astronomy building surrounds an open space. Installing skylights over the courtyard will provide a year-round oasis for the building's occupants. It will also require the removal of roughly 14 trees, according to Janzen. Displacing trees is one of the more sensitive challenges of the project and one the steering committee is fully addressing.
"We looked at ways to preserve the trees as a project priority, not only because it's Western's policy, but because it would be a shame to lose some of these unique species from our campus," says Janzen.
Western's Master Plan states that every removed tree will be replaced with one or more trees. In this case, the more unique species will be preserved through reseeding or replanting elsewhere on campus.
Physical Plant's grounds crew will be involved in the splitting and replanting of the mimosa and buckeye. As well, they will be protecting the existing trees around the site, including the tulip tree.
Evidence of the upcoming construction is already visible as the familiar safety zone fences are being erected along Middlesex Drive and Kent Drive.
Vehicular traffic will not face regular interruptions. Pedestrians, on the other hand, will notice slight detours in their routes. Also, large areas to the south and east of the building have been reserved for contractor work areas, which will have an effect on the adjacent parking spots.
There will be some disruption of the units within Physics and Astronomy, but they will not make a major transition to another facility during the construction.
"Most projects of this magnitude require the occupants to leave the facility, but because of the modulation of this project over four phases, we can utilize the space available and make less dramatic displacements," says Janzen.
Janzen admits changing routes and habits of the building occupants may be enduring, but he feels turning a nearly century old building into one of the most resource efficient facilities on campus will be well worth it.
he writer is a communications specialist in Physical Plant and Capital Planning Services.


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