Future of UEL uncertain

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Corporation decided this weekend to locate a new “Mind Brain Behavior Building” on Angell Street between J. Walter Wilson and the Walk, at the current location of the Urban Environmental Lab and two University-owned houses, President Ruth Simmons announced Saturday in a campus-wide e-mail. The decision leaves the future location of the Center for Environmental Studies unclear.

The proposed building, which will house the Department of Cognitive and Linguistic Sciences, the Department of Psychology and the Brain Science Program, was originally to be located at 154 Angell St., which used to be the site of a Shell gas station and is now slated for the planned Creative Arts Center.

The Corporation’s announcement did not specify whether the UEL could be relocated or whether the center would move to a new building, and both remain a possibility, according to Patti Caton ’92 MA’02, administrative manager of the center.

The UEL, converted from a carriage house in 1981, previously contained student housing and the offices and classrooms of the center. According to Encyclopedia Brunoniana, the UEL was designed to be “a model house to show what can be accomplished in an urban environment with a solar greenhouse, insulation, water-conserving plumbing and a recycling facility.”

The construction of the cognitive and linguistic sciences building on the site is part of the University’s initiative to make better use of space near the center of campus, a goal that was adopted by the Corporation in 2003 as part of the Strategic Framework for Physical Planning.

The UEL would be more difficult to move than Peter Green House, Caton said. The only likely new location would be Waterman Street, but even that would be a temporary solution. “It would only be a matter of time before they would want that footprint for another building,” Caton said.

Another possible location for the center is on the third floor of the Metcalf Chemistry Building, which has housed the history department – temporarily displaced as its previous home, Peter Green House, was relocated and renovated – since the Department of Neuroscience moved to the Sidney Frank Hall for Life Sciences.

“It’s actually kind of a cool space up there, and there’s a lot that could be done,” Caton said. But the space, which features multiple skylights, would require expensive renovations to become as cozy as the UEL, and it is unclear whether that money would be available, Caton added.

However, even renovations might not be able to recreate the sentiment attached to the UEL.

“For years, the UEL was the most energy-efficient building on campus,” said Kurt Teichert, lecturer in environmental studies and environmental stewardship initiatives manager for the center. The UEL has been around for much of the modern environmentalist movement, according to Teichert, and represents a “standing testimony to Brown’s commitment in that area.” The building gives Brown’s environmental science program a physical center so that it is not distributed across buildings and departments, as at some other schools, he added.

In addition, the unique history of the UEL gives it a variety of formal and casual meeting spaces that are conducive to group study and interdisciplinary discussion. “You definitely won’t be able to recreate that residential feel,” Teichert said.

Despite the move, the future of the center appears secure. “I think (the move) was inevitable, and we’re just going to have to accept it,” Caton said.

“I’m optimistic that anything we do will strengthen the center,” Teichert said.

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