SJSU Plans to Replace Outdated Science Building with Collaborative Facility

Gensler Skanska San Jose State University Downtown San Jose Duncan Hall California State University Board of Trustees Interdisciplinary Science Building

By Jacob Bourne

San Jose State University has several campus renovation and construction projects in its pipeline to meet the goals of the school’s master plan. One of the projects in the planning process is a new interdisciplinary science building to replace the existing one, now deemed obsolete. The development site is an area bounded by San Carlos, Fourth, San Salvador and Seventh Streets in Downtown San Jose. It’s located in the southwestern section of campus and just north of Duncan Hall, another campus science facility. Following a bid issued by the University, Gensler and Skanska were selected for a design-build contract on March 24, with Gensler as the designer and Skanska the project’s builder.

“This is really significant for San Jose State as it will be the first building built in 35 years,” said Karen Kuklin, senior associate, Gensler. “The existing lab facility is very out of date. The State is systematically updating all the science buildings on campuses. A lot of the buildings were built in the 1960s and 70s and are no longer adequate.”

The proposed building will cost over $147 million and offer about 160,000 square feet of space for chemistry and biological sciences. The number of floors is still being determined but will likely be eight or nine stories. The University had held a town hall meeting last May outlining the project’s focus on providing green space, various student amenities, an interdisciplinary ground floor and sustainability. Some of the anticipated features include a casual student lounge, open research lab, high performance computing lab, serviced dining hall, graduate teaching area and curated science displays. A research incubator space is also being considered.

The interdisciplinary nature of the building is geared towards fostering cross disciplinary discussions. The design is expected to reflect this by creating overlap spaces where students and faculty from different departments can meet. According to Kuklin, the rationale behind this is that discovery often occurs outside of the laboratory in more open, collaborative spaces. An outdoor courtyard, lobby and activated circulation areas are also intended to promote opportunities for discussion and innovation.

“I’ve spent most of my career focusing on academic buildings and have experience on many campuses,” Kuklin offered. “I especially love working on science buildings. A trend we’re seeing in education is a push for research at the undergraduate level; science departments are much more welcoming today. This project will be a beacon for them to attract students as the University’s proximity to Silicon Valley is very important to them.”

As SJSU is a public institution, the project’s approval would be granted by the California State University Board of Trustees at a meeting scheduled for January 23, 2018, though the date could potentially be rescheduled for November of this year. It will also require approval by the State Fire Marshal and State Architect. The project is currently in the schematic design process, and if approved, construction could begin in January 2019 with an estimated completion in June 2021.

Part of the planning process involves conducting community outreach and media based communications to engage the public and campus community. The University is aiming to make students and scientists part of the collaborative design process that’s still in the preliminary stages. One of the first steps is to conduct a cost analysis to determine sustainability solutions for the building as science lab uses can be very energy intensive.

“These buildings use a lot of energy, so our focus will be on keeping energy use down,” said Kuklin. “The sustainability focus will be on health and wellness because of the chemistry labs as well as the long term operational and maintenance costs associated with the high energy use.”

Construction is already underway on the University’s Student Recreation and Aquatic Center also designed by Gensler. The facility’s completion is expected in December 2018, totaling $139 million in project costs. Hunt Construction is the general contractor for that project.