Gates donates $20 million for new CS building

It was in SCS?s last building project that University officials announced the next great step in the transformation of Carnegie Mellon University?s main Pittsburgh campus. A donation of $20 million by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will start the process of fundraising for a new computer science building in the west campus precinct.

The announcement was made public Tuesday morning at a press conference in Newell-Simon Hall ? built by SCS in 1999-2000 ? by University President Jared L. Cohon. He was joined by Randal Bryant, the new Dean of the School of Computer Science, and Sunil Wadhwani, CEO and co-founder of iGATE Corporation, representing the University?s Board of Trustees. It is the second multi-million-dollar naming donation to the University in six months, following David Tepper?s gift to the formerly unnamed Graduate School of Industrial Administration.

?This gift represents the largest single foundational gift in the history of the University,? said Cohon about Gates? largesse. ?We are greatly honored to have the Gates name on a building on this campus.?

Paralleling the format of last spring?s gala announcement of the Tepper donation, the statements to the media were followed by a reception for students of SCS. Cohon congratulated the student body on making the donation possible.

The Gates Foundation, created in 2000 by the merger of several smaller charitable organizations, is the vehicle for philanthropic work by Gates, chief software architect of Microsoft Corporation, and his wife Melinda. The Seattle-based foundation is headed by Gates? father and commands an endowment of $27 billion, according to the foundation?s 2003 annual report. The foundation charges itself with supporting advances in global health and education. It supports research and pharmaceutical programs targeted at problems such as HIV and tuberculosis, but also makes larger individual donations of libraries and university buildings.

Gates, who visited campus for a lecture last spring, has shown a great commitment to computer science education and research with the donation of buildings to major centers of CS research, in spite of having not finished his degree program at Harvard. In his junior year in 1978, he dropped out to run his burgeoning Microsoft company, founded three years earlier with childhood friend Paul Allen.

Gates expressed his own vision for the building, saying, ?Our goal is for this new building to be a catalyst for computer science breakthroughs....[W]e hope the foundation?s gift will help the school continue to excel and push the envelope of human understanding and innovation,? according to a press release from the University?s department of media relations.
The building will be named the ?Gates Center for Computer Science,? joining other such eponymously-named buildings at major computer science loci such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford University. The Foundation sees the gift as an investment in the future of computer science and specifically targets and rewards centers of excellence, adding an additional accolade for the School.

?[The donation is] a huge endorsement by Bill Gates that will help let the world know that Carnegie Mellon is world-class,? said Dean Bryant on the meaning of the selection of CMU for the donation.

It is important for SCS to get additional space as the world-renowned school continues to expand. The School?s first two buildings ? Newell-Simon and Wean Halls ? were crowded again shortly after the former?s completion. According to the press release, specifications for the new building call for office and research space in the Gates Center, but also for badly needed classrooms, computer clusters, and a 250-seat auditorium; all of those will alleviate scheduling stress on SCS?s older facilities.

The building is intended to decompress other campus buildings with no plans yet to expand the faculty or student body, but according to Cohon, ?even if they don?t plan to grow, they will grow.?

The effect on SCS research will be felt immediately following its opening because of the lab and cluster space in the new building, important to the School, where ?[t]he biggest developments in computer science are still ahead of us,? according to Wadhwani.

The location, scale, and specific use of the building are commensurate with a building on the 2002 campus master plan. That building, then referred to as a 150,000-square-foot ?Academic/Research Building,? was one of several under preliminary study by Facilities Management Services prior to the announcement of the gift. A preliminary sketch was prepared by the Pennsylvania architectural firm of Bohlin Cywinski Jackson (BCJ). The sketch shows a building similar in external design to the older Hornbostel buildings on campus, such as Porter and Baker Halls, and to those built as part of the 1986 Michael Dennis plan, such as the University Center. BCJ, the lead architects for New House as well as for Gates? residential compound in Washington State, have not been named as the project?s architects.

While definitive plans have not been laid out for the design or schedule of construction, the building will also likely be accompanied by a new parking structure in the hollow between Cyert and Doherty Halls. Landscaped greenspace will replace the maze of roadways currently scarring the area. Several buildings currently on and around the site will probably be demolished to allow for construction and frontage of the building along Forbes Avenue; these include the Old Student Center (OSC) as well as the printing-and-publications and Planetary Robotics buildings.

The University?s Facilities Management Services will have a hand in the preparation for demolition and construction on the site. They?ll act as project managers and select the architect, contractor and most importantly the design for the project. They will also be charged with finding replacement homes for displaced tenants of demolished buildings.
Kenneth Kimbrough, assistant vice president for Facilities Management Services, expects new homes to be arranged for services currently on the site. ?Within 30 to 60 days, I would expect meetings between FMS, Planning, and the Provost to set their new locations,? he said. ?A year from now, I would expect to have the occupants of those four buildings moved.?
There are mixed feelings about the buildings likely to be replaced by the Gates Center construction. The OSC, a seemingly temporary structure built by the federal government for the Navy, is often considered an eyesore of that part of campus, housing graduate student offices and the Campus Police and CMU EMS offices. ?When the Old Student Center comes down, it?s a pretty important moment in CMU history,? said Jason Pock, a senior H&SS interdisciplinary student.

Regarding the three-year timeframe for building, Joe Arasin, a sophomore and student senator for SCS, said, ?This donation ?while most current undergraduates won?t get to benefit from it directly ? will still help to solidify our position as leaders in computer science.?

There were some questions about the relationship Microsoft will forge with the University as a result of the gift, notably as to whether competing corporations would be deterred from making their own donations. The Gates Center and its surroundings are estimated to cost in excess of $50 million: Comparing the gift with those Gates has made to other schools, Cohon is confident that ?A gift from Gates will inspire donations.?