Gates Hillman Complex nears completion

Credit: Aaron Fetterman/Layout Staff Credit: Aaron Fetterman/Layout Staff

The Computer Science Department is all grown up and moved out of Wean Hall. The Gates Hillman Complex, the department’s new home, is now ready for the 2009–2010 school year.

The complex will add a major auditorium; new classrooms, clusters, offices, laboratories, and conference rooms; landscaping in place of undeveloped land; more parking; significantly more green space; and new traffic flow patterns across campus.

“It will be a great to have a place that computer science can call its own,” said Karalyn Baca, a junior computer science major. “I’ve seen a lot of digital renderings of the Gates Hillman Complex, but I’m just looking forward to seeing the actual buildings.”

Some parts of the complex are not yet ready, such as the Randy Pausch Memorial Footbridge and the exterior skin, which are set to be completed by the Sept. 22 opening ceremony.

All parking and landscaping work is expected to be completed in October.

Move-in to the complex began on Aug. 10 and is expected to continue until the first day of classes, so that it will be ready for students.

“Consider that we only started planning for the buildings in 2004, and we only selected our architects in 2005,” said Randy Bryant, dean of the School of Computer Science.

Marc Scogin Merrill Elam Architects, an Atlanta-based firm responsible for buildings on other university campuses, such as Arizona State University and University of California at Berkeley, was assigned to the project.

Construction remained on schedule for completion in summer 2009 throughout the economic difficulties of the past few years.

All of the funding had been set in place before the downslide of the economy hit campus. Bryant said that attention had to be paid to sticking to the budget, but that building quality was never compromised.

“The economy has given some extra motivation to finish the project on time so that the University can more quickly recover overhead from the sponsored research that will take place in the building,” said Guy Blelloch, professor and associate dean of planning for the School of Computer Science (SCS), as well as chair of the SCS Program Committee for the complex. “This being said, we did have to forgo some options which might have been included in a better economy.”

The Gates Center for Computer Science was funded by an initial gift of $20 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Hillman Center for Future-Generation Technologies was supported by a $10 million gift from the Henry L. Hillman Foundation.

The complex occupies the space between the Purnell Center for the Arts and the west side of campus.

The Gates Center is on the south side and faces the Cut, and the Hillman Center is on the north side adjacent to Forbes Avenue.

“Surely the biggest challenge has been the site. It is a geographically complicated site, dropping 75 feet from the highest point on the Cut to the lowest point between Doherty and Newell-Simon Halls,” said Blelloch.

The complex is about 210,000 square feet in size, with 150,000 occupied by the Gates Center and 60,000 taken by the Hillman Center. The interior is composed of 310 offices, 32 laboratories, 11 conference rooms, 10 classrooms, an auditorium with a 150-person seating capacity, and 8000 square feet of open project space, along with the Planetary Robotics Center.

“It is a striking building both inside and out, and it provides a new set of connections between the main campus, the Cut, and the emerging west campus: Newell-Simon, Wean, and the [Collaborative Innovation Center],” Bryant said.

Set to be complete by the Sept. 22 ceremony, the skin represents a stark contrast to the main campus’s yellow-brick look devised by architect Henry Hornbostel.

Like the skin, the Randy Pausch Memorial Footbridge is almost complete.

The bridge connects the Gates Center for Computer Science to the Cut, representing Pausch’s role as a bridge between computer science and the arts.

The bridge has been delayed by new plans to add an enhanced railing and lighting system to make it an adequate memorial for Pausch, Bryant said. The railings are expected to feature LED lights that can be programmed to change colors. The hope is for the railing to become a sort of virtual Fence.

In addition to the bridge, the building has many other connections around campus.

“The flow patterns around campus will change fundamentally,” Bryant said. “The building has five main entrances: Forbes, behind Warner Hall, across the Pausch Bridge from Purnell, via a raised bridge from Newell-Simon, and from the newly formed quadrangle consisting of CIC, Smith/Hamburg, Gates, and Newell-Simon. Inside is a series of hallways and a spiraling ramp that enables people to flow into and out of these five portals.”

Blelloch and Baca mentioned some of the complex’s many other contributions.

“The new complex is supposed to integrate a lot of green building practices, so it will be interesting to see how those are implemented in the new building,” Baca said.

The complex was built in the hopes of obtaining a LEED certification for its attention paid to the environment, like many other main campus buildings, including the campus’s newest dorm, Stever House.