Work set to start on new chemistry building

Groundbreaking for a new chemistry building at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee is set for Jan. 26 at noon at the Kenwood Interdisciplinary Research Complex, 3135 N. Maryland Ave.

Speakers and members of the Chemistry Department will gather at the window facing the construction site to lift a smoking chemical “toast” to the success of the new building. That will be the signal for the excavator outside the building to start digging.

Planned speakers include University of Wisconsin System President Tommy Thompson, Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley, UWM Chancellor Mark Mone and Scott Gronert, dean of the College of Letters & Science.

The new facility will be located just south of the current Chemistry Building, between the Physics Building, 1900 E. Kenwood Blvd., and the Lubar Entrepreneurship Center and UWM Welcome Center, 2100 E. Kenwood.

$118 million project

UWM received state-supported borrowing to begin work on the building as part of the UW System’s $1 billion 2019-2021 capital budget plan. Construction is scheduled to be completed in late 2023 or early 2024 at a total cost of $118 million.

The new four-story, 163,400-square-foot building will serve as a gateway to the STEM buildings and departments that house those subjects – science, technology, engineering and mathematics. It will include space for the nearly 5,000 UWM students who take chemistry and biochemistry classes each year.

This rendering shows a research lab in the new building. (Kahler Slater)

“Chemistry underlies nearly every growth industry, and we know that STEM jobs are growing faster than non-STEM jobs,” said UWM Chancellor Mark Mone. “Employers need graduates who have the opportunity to conduct practical research and develop skills to solve problems.  We are delighted to begin work on a new, modern chemistry building that will better prepare our students for the multitude of opportunities open to them.”

Figures from a 2021 American Chemistry Council fact sheet showed chemistry industry jobs generated $1 billion in payroll across Wisconsin and $138 million in state and local tax revenue. One in five new jobs in Wisconsin are in science, technology, engineering and math fields, which are rooted in chemistry, according to Chemistry Department Chair Joseph Aldstadt.

In addition to UWM students who take chemistry, so do high schoolers and middle schoolers from across the state and K-12 teachers who come to learn how to design classroom lessons for their students.

“As the ‘central science,’ students in a broad array of fields — natural sciences, health sciences, engineering — have curricula requiring knowledge of chemistry, an understanding of the structure and reactivity of matter in its myriad forms,” Aldstadt said.

“For research, we are a key contributor to the university’s R1 designation for research excellence,” he said. “We average over $5 million per year in extramural funding, $49 million in the past decade.”

State-of-the-art building

The current building dates to 1972.

“The primary reason we’re excited about the new building is that it will be a state-of-the-art facility,” said Aldstadt. “We’ll be able to significantly enhance our teaching, research, and outreach missions. We’ll have new learning spaces for lectures, tutoring, study groups; new laboratories that integrate teaching and research, with efficiencies in design that make collaborative research easier to do.

Chemistry is one of the strongest departments at UWM, he added, with a record of success in teaching, research, and outreach across many decades. With over 250 undergraduate majors, 70 graduate students in MS and PhD programs, 18 faculty, 18 academic, technical, administrative staff, and 10 post-doctoral fellows and visiting faculty, the department is thriving.

“The most important reason we’re excited about the prospect of occupying a new building is that it will be a state-of-the-art facility,” Aldstadt said.  “We will have new learning spaces for lectures, tutoring, study groups and new laboratories that integrate teaching and research, with efficiencies in design that make collaborative research easier to do.”

Creating green space

When the new chemistry building is complete, the current building will be demolished to create green space between the new structure and Engelmann Field. The goal of the site development plan, said Karen Wolfert, senior architect/planner, is to create a green campus quad north of the new building that invites people to linger and engage in this STEM-centered region of campus. The quad will include small and large gathering spaces, pedestrian pathways, a drop off road, stormwater management and bicycle and vehicle parking.

The architecture/engineering team for the project is led by CannonDesign in partnership with Kahler Slater. The general contractor is VJS Construction Services Inc.

Members of the Chemistry Department user team that helped with the planning included Aldstadt, Kristen Murphy, Nicholas Silvaggi, Doug Stafford and Kevin Blackburn.

Steering committee for the vision, design and details of the building included Wolfert, Scott Gronert, Daâd Saffarini and Kristene Surerus.

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