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After 26 months, new Biochemistry space readies for move-in

Henry Mall looks remarkably empty these days. Gone are construction offices, trailers, piles of construction materials and most of the heavy machinery that were part of the 26-month process of building the new Biochemical Sciences building.

“Right now they’re tilling the compacted soil and replacing topsoil. There’s also some curb and gutter work going on. The west lane of Henry Mall will be open later this year,” reports Peter Heaslett, who is overseeing the project for Facilities Planning and Management.

“What’s left now is a lot of finish work—a long list of small details,” he adds. “The first occupants will move into the new space some time around Thanksgiving. We’ll be moving two research groups a week. The instructional labs will move over winter break and be functional for the spring semester.”

The mall will be fully restored along the lines of a historical plan drafted a couple of years ago. It will be mostly lawn and hedges, with trees replanted along the terrace.

How did the project go? “More or less as planned if you step back and blur your eyes a little bit,” Heaslett says. “It was a complicated plan. Any time you completely remodel historic buildings you’re asking for discoveries to be made, and we made a few, but nothing that we couldn’t handle.”

One challenge was preserving the John Steuart Curry mural in the hall of the 1939 portion of the Biochemistry building at 420 Henry Mall. This involved walling off the mural in its own protected, heated enclosure. Quarterly inspections by an art conservator showed almost no construction damage, which will be remedied at the end of the project, when the conservator will clean and restore the painting.

The former Agricultural Journalism building will be the site of a new café run by the Wisconsin Union, facing a little courtyard to the south. The upper floor has been opened into the attic space to show the building’s structure. Most of the rest of the building will be office and meeting space.

“I’m really happy with how were were able to take care of and repurpose the historic buildings,” Heaslett says.

The original 1912 Biochemistry building and the 1939 addition behind it will be given over mostly to instructional space as well as offices for the Department of Biomolecular Chemistry, which will be sharing the new space with the Department of Biochemistry.

The November move-in is not the end of the project. Next comes renovation of much of the 1985 tower at the north end. That will likely take about another year.