Nucleus Rising: Swift Progress Continues on Pitzer and Scripps’ New Science Building

Aerial shot of the design of the bridge between the two science buildings.
Bridging the past and present: An architectural rendering of the bridges connecting The Nucleus with the existing Keck Science Department building.

Scientific breakthroughs don’t happen overnight; they are built on—they depend on—the achievements of the past.

Take the invention of penicillin. In 1928 Alexander Fleming noticed how mold stopped the growth of nearby bacteria. But it took other scientists, some 15 years later, to actually figure out how to take Fleming’s discovery, purify it, and manufacture it for public use.

When The Nucleus science facility opens in fall 2024, the past’s importance to the present will be visible daily to anyone entering the facility in a subtly symbolic way: in the bridges that will serve as gathering spaces as well as connecting The Nucleus with the existing Keck Science Department building.

For Keck Science Dean UJ Sofia and his faculty, The Nucleus project has been eagerly anticipated.

“We’ve been planning this for a long time,” Sofia told Pitzer faculty and staff during a recent college-wide meeting. “There is a lot of excitement—and relief—that construction is under way.”

Since the groundbreaking in May, there has been steady progress on construction of the new building, which is the result of an important partnership between Pitzer and Scripps colleges to create unprecedented new opportunities for students in the sciences.

“From the design phase to the construction phase, a continued partnership with the project management team, contractor, and expanded team has ensured the project will meet the future science needs of students, faculty and staff,” said Patrice Langevin, Pitzer’s Associate Vice President of Campus Facilities.

That team, Langevin added, includes “many community members, the Keck Science dean, faculty, students, and staff; Laura Troendle, who is Pitzer Vice President, Chief Operating Officer, and Treasurer; Scripps Vice President for Business Affairs/Treasurer Dean Calvo, and Scripps Executive Director of Facilities Management Josh Reeder; as well as the college presidents and members of the Board of Trustees; HPLE, Carrier Johnson Architects, and Hamilton Construction.”

When The Nucleus opens in fall 2024, “we’re really going to be able to flex our interdisciplinarity.”

UJ Sofia, Dean, Keck Science Department

Rising just west of the Keck Science building, The Nucleus is an approximately 70,000-square-foot building that will feature teaching laboratories, collaborative learning spaces, community courtyards and plazas, an art installation, and a rooftop greenhouse for scientific use.

“The Nucleus” is a fitting name for a building that will create a powerful new concentration of state-of-the-art academic resources to support the study of the sciences at Pitzer and Scripps, Sofia said.

“Now that construction is quickly moving along, we’ve been able to start thinking of exciting ways to build more connections between Pitzer’s and Scripps’ core values,” he said. “We’re really going to be able to flex our interdisciplinarity more than we’ve ever done before.”

Construction workers work on various sections of the walls, wood, and rebar of the first floor of the science building on a bright sunny day.
Making good progress: View of the first floor of The Nucleus from the rooftop of the Keck Science Department building. (Photo credit: Michelle Spromberg)

Right on Time

Within just a few weeks of a groundbreaking ceremony in spring 2022 to celebrate the project and Pitzer-Scripps partnership, construction was proceeding on schedule.

Langevin said the work was planned on a timeline that would be cost-effective (as well as mitigate construction disruptions to the surrounding dorms and Keck Science building) with the goal of achieving three key milestones in the first six months of construction: early procurement of materials, excavation, and installation of the structural footing and columns.

In January, the Pitzer-Scripps Facilities team worked with Hamilton Construction out of Pomona to purchase much of the equipment and needed building materials in advance (which has helped them avoid the price spikes of inflation that have happened during a financially volatile year).

This summer the site was cleared and excavated to a depth of up to 25 feet, which was planned to occur when students were thankfully away (digging is extremely noisy and disruptive). Some 2,844 tons of soil were dug up—the equivalent of the weight of 2,000 automobiles according to Jaime Ortiz, HPLE project manager—and then cleaned and processed. Some of the soil was then brought back and used on the site, while some soil has been stored for future use, including for landscaping and grading work which will come near the end of the project.

Excavation was followed by the most dramatic aspect of construction: the installation of the footings and columns (some 327 tons of rebar, which translates into a single rod of rebar that is 87 miles long, or long enough to nearly stretch from Pitzer to the beach and back).

A construction worker in an orange hard hat stands in a green lift while working on a rebar column.
Getting ready for the concrete pours: The construction team preps the rebar columns on the first floor of The Nucleus. (Photo credit: Michelle Spromberg)

“Now that the structural system is in place, you can start to see the shape of the actual building, the actual footprint,” Langevin noted. “It’s easier now to visualize the building, and that’s really exciting for everyone.”

While Pitzer, Scripps, and the rest of The Claremont Colleges are on holiday break, work will continue with several other milestones, including: concrete pours for the first floor and second floor slabs as well as starting to work on the roof slab and roof structure.

Prep work will also take place soon in the Keck Science building as the two buildings are joined together with the symbolic (and multi-use) bridges.

For Sofia, who described the swift progress during the community-wide Pitzer meeting, The Nucleus is going to provide students with more opportunities and resources, ranging from more tutoring spaces and rightsized classes to increased chances of conducting research and working closely with more tenure-line faculty.

“When students come to study science at Keck, we’re going to be able to take them, regardless of their experience or background in the sciences, and help them to successfully pursue their plans,” he said. “We’re really excited about where we’re going to go and what we’re going to do with this new space.”

A powerful new science center for Scripps and Pitzer students: Architectural rendering of the west entrance of The Nucleus

Related Stories:

Watch construction of The Nucleus on our live webcam!

Groundbreaking ceremony and unveiling of The Nucleus

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