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Students, faculty organizing to protect UEL

Efforts to save the Urban Environmental Lab are gathering steam as concerned faculty members and students organize to save the structure. The Mind Brain Behavior building is slated to take the UEL's place on Angell Street adjacent to the Walk, the planned greensward that will link Lincoln Field with the Pembroke campus.

The new building, which was approved by the Corporation last month, will force either a relocation or destruction of the UEL, which houses the Center for Environmental Studies.

The Mind Brain Behavior building will house the Department of Psychology, the Department of Cognitive and Linguistic Sciences and the Brain Science Program. The project will cost the University $69 million, said Associate Provost Pamela O'Neil. Construction is slated to begin in March 2009 and conclude by the fall of 2010, but plans are contingent on fundraising results, O'Neil said.

But there is a "growing group of students and alumni who are interested in doing something trying to protect the UEL," said Laura Genello '07, who was a concentrator in environmental studies and is heading up efforts to preserve the UEL. That group is trying to prevent the destruction of the building itself, and "at the very least get the Center for Environmental Studies a better site than Metcalf" Research Laboratory, she said.

The University has offered the center two possible new locations - the third floor of Metcalf and a space on Stimson Avenue. The Stimson location, near the Olney-Margolies Athletic Center, is relatively distant. "We don't want to move it to some remote location that's on the edge of campus," O'Neil said.

Originally a carriage house, the UEL building was converted to house the center in 1981. Most of the construction was done by students, and in 1983, the department moved into what Professor Emeritus of Environmental Studies Harold Ward called the most "energy efficient building on campus."

"The walls are better insulated than anything Brown has ever built before," Ward said, and the building is partially heated using convection.

"I think the only option for the building is to move it, he said. "The building is worth saving."

Patti Caton, administrative manager for the center, agreed. "The only way the building's going to be saved is if it's moved," she said - though, she said, she doesn't think a relocation is likely.

"It's a very unique space on campus," Caton said. "Visitors are just totally amazed that there's such a great place like that in the middle of campus."

Student and alum efforts to save the building are still nascent. Genello sent an e-mail to all environmental studies concentrators Oct. 23 asking for their help to try to save the UEL. "In my mind," she wrote, "destroying the UEL runs counter to all the qualities of the University that made my Brown experience worthwhile."

After sending the initial e-mail, Genello and other students started a "letter-writing campaign to people at the University who are involved with the construction process," she said, targeting officials such as O'Neil and Michael McCormick, assistant vice president for planning, design and construction.

"We've been trying to ... get other students involved," Genello said. "It's interesting because we just started getting around e-mails about this, and the students and alumni on the e-mail list who are not ES concentrators are equally concerned."

"Right now it seems like efforts are ... growing and forming as we're gathering people together," Genello said. "It's really in the stage of getting as many people involved as possible and getting the ball rolling."

O'Neil said the University wants to listen to the concerns of the UEL's defenders and maintain the unique identity granted to the center by the UEL.

"The UEL does give that program a sense of identity," O'Neil said, and maintaining that identity "is the most important thing."

A "green renovation" of Metcalf might "provide the kind of identity that they are looking for," O'Neil said.

Though the UEL may eventually become too small for the center's needs, Ward said he thinks it should nevertheless be preserved, a remark echoed by others.

"It just doesn't make any sense to take the most energy efficient building and just demolish it," Caton said.



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