“Students can now go from their desk to their experiment in six seconds. And there’s no smell of chemistry anywhere.” | Bruce Lennox
Something had to be done about Otto Maass. Not the legendary chemist, that is, but the half-century-old chemistry building named in his honour. The ventilation systems, so crucial to laboratory safety, were showing their age. So was the plumbing, the electrical and the lab layouts. “The question,” says Bruce Lennox, chair of McGill’s Department of Chemistry, “was whether to recreate a 45-year-old model of infrastructure, or to really reinvent the building.”
As far back as 2007, Lennox and his team had been talking with Jim Nicell, Associate Vice-Principal (University Services), and staff from McGill’s Facilities Operations and Development unit. They quickly realized that the bolder “reinvention” option would create cutting-edge teaching and research spaces while yielding dramatic energy savings–a goal that’s particularly important for the sustainability-focused Department of Chemistry, home to a flagship Green Chemistry research group.
In 2009, those makeover dreams were fast-tracked to reality when the federal government launched its Knowledge Infrastructure Program (KIP). With $103-million in funding from the KIP program and the Quebec government, McGill began extensive overhauls of labs, classrooms and mechanical systems at Otto Maass, the McIntyre Medical Building, the Macdonald Engineering Complex and the Douglas Mental Health University Institute.
The project kicked into high gear, with crews working double shifts four days a week. In the autumn of 2011, the construction fence surrounding Otto Maass came down to reveal a building transformed. “This was a massive undertaking,” says Jim Nicell. “It was made possible through teamwork, and by the fact that we were prepared. The renovations will set the stage for transformative research and teaching in chemistry for decades to come.”
Numerous new, large labs integrate office space, instrument space and chemical storage–all separated by glass walls, and with their own ventilation systems. “Students can now go from their desk to their experiment in six seconds,” says Lennox. “And there’s no smell of chemistry anywhere.” The new large labs have the added benefit of combining two or three compatible research groups, encouraging network-building and idea-sharing among approximately 225 researchers and 5,000 undergraduates who use the space.
The complete overhaul of systems has brought the building in line with the energy management objectives for McGill’s campuses; by repurposing the heat generated by computer servers in next-door Burnside Hall, for example, the annual Otto Maass heating bill will drop by an estimated $120,000 a year. In addition to those increased efficiencies, the changes have also laid the groundwork for the next stage of renovations, in particular the undergraduate teaching labs. “With the old teaching labs, we could not innovate in our academic curriculum,” says Lennox. In the new labs, with state-of-the-art fume hoods and experiment space, “we’ll have the facilities to do everything we want to do academically. There’s really no limit.”
The spirit of teamwork and long-range vision has fueled a number of other recent infrastructure projects, including:
In March 2012 the Government of Quebec awarded McGill $35-million to undertake a much-needed full renovation of Wilson Hall, a heritage building that houses the schools of Social Work and Nursing.
McGill’s new Life Sciences Complex earned a LEED Gold certification from the Canada Green Building Council, for its innovative heat recovery system, maximized use of daylight, rainwater capture and green roof. In addition, more than 96 per cent of construction-related waste was diverted from landfill.