For many years, the first thing that anyone approaching the SUNY New Paltz campus has seen of it was a parking lot. That’s no longer the case: the aptly-named Science Hall, at the corner of South Manheim Boulevard and Plattekill Avenue, stands as witness to any arriving from the village that the main entrance is just a few hundred feet away. The slate-covered, 48 million-dollar building is the pride and joy of university officials, but a few wrinkles in its design have rankled neighbors since construction began.
The first issue that arose had to do with the roof. John Shupe, assistance vice president for facilities management, recalled that neighbors alerted him to the fact that metal used was reflecting the rising sun into some neighbors’ windows. “The contractor advised us it would develop a patina over time which would resolve the issue, and that’s exactly what happened,” he said. Because this building is right on the edge of campus, Shupe said he took pains to contact every neighbor he could. “I left a card when I couldn’t find anyone at home,” he said, but couldn’t be sure if they were all received.
Chiho Pine is one such neighbor, and she never heard of Shupe. She and her family members are certainly well aware of the work on Science Hall, however, as from their bedroom windows — across from that parking lot — they once had a view of some of the remaining historic houses on campus. Pine was disappointed that the original brick facade was replaced with slate on the finished building; where Shupe thinks it makes the building a signature structure, Pine is reminded of a 19th-century factory.
While the question of slate vs. brick is just one of aesthetics, it’s the stairwell visible right out their windows that spurred Pine to say something. Specifically, it’s the very bright light which streams out of the glass-walled enclosure at all hours of the night. Their own trees provide insufficient screening on the second story, where they sleep, and several mature trees along Plattekill that might have provided some relief were removed during construction. To help explain what’s happening, Shupe provided a tour of the building, the first given to any member of the press.
Science Hall was designed for the newest technology and educational approaches. Many of the rooms are configured for group work, and professors will have access to the latest multimedia tools with which to guide their students. There’s only one lecture hall, and the furniture which was being delivered and installed during the tour will be able to be moved around to configure the room to the specific needs of the participants. Much of the space within, however, is not for instruction at all.
In the lobby, paved with smooth stones that are punctuated with 50-million-year-old fossils, one’s eye is drawn to the grand staircase leading upward. Around it, and throughout the building, are places where students can gather to socialize or to study, from quiet rooms to intimate nooks. The largest non-academic space is a cafe, which Shupe said will allow for a quick bite without wandering all the way back to the Student Union building. The cafe, the lounges and the many labs all have skylights and windows designed to maximize the amount of natural light inside. Daylight is the cheapest form of illumination, and as Shupe observed, “It’s better light.”
Copious natural light is one of the ways that energy efficiency is baked into the design for Science Hall. Shupe believes that this building will receive a silver certification under LEED, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. It’s the glass in particular, together with the ultra-efficient light-emitting diodes (LEDs) used after the sun sets, that are creating this second brightness problem for Pine and other neighbors. The glass walls in the stairwell bring light in during the day, but safety codes require that they be lit at night, when it shines outward. While Shupe had not yet been in contact with Pine during the tour, he acknowledged that neighbors along South Manheim had contacted him about a similar issue with another stairwell.
“It will be rectified,” the facilities master said. Part of the solution will be in the form of new landscaping, which won’t be installed until spring, but he said workers are also looking into ways to dim the diodes when the stairwell is unoccupied. Along Plattekill in particular, two trees were removed, one of which had to come down because it was sick. Coincidentally, a tree was recently removed from Pine’s yard because of extensive rot. Since Science Hall is farther from the road than in the original plans, a “park-like setting” will create a green space and buffer between its slate-covered walls and Plattekill Avenue.
Shupe spoke of other compromises made on this project: it was first proposed as a five-story building, but reduced in height in response to neighbor concerns. College officials are in no way obligated to consider the feelings of those who live nearby, but it’s clear that he, as well as president Donald Christian, subscribe to a “good neighbor” philosophy. In addition to working with neighbors, there’s considerable cooperation with village employees: they’ve been known to plow campus roads when university trucks are down, just as university police officers patrol local roads from time to time.
Another neighbor concern was entirely new to Shupe: a garbage container, temporarily moved to Plattekill Avenue, has reportedly been emptied far too early in the morning. As with village roads, “We don’t let haulers collect before 7 a.m.,” he said. “We have students sleeping, and it can be an issue.” In any case, the container will soon be returned to a location deeper on the campus, where even if it’s emptied earlier than it should be, the noise will be less likely to rouse those nearby.
The new building will be open in time for this semester, although the permanent signage might not be in place by then. Right now the temporary signs use the temporary name, “New Science Building.” The official name, Science Hall, isn’t much more original, but Shupe said that anyone willing to make an appropriate donation could rename it. State standard calls for a donation of at least half the building’s cost to secure naming rights, meaning that for just $24 million, Science Hall could be renamed in anyone’s honor. Surely that’s a bargain at twice the price.