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No easy way to move UEL, Brown tells community

Correction appended.

Putting Brown's Urban Environmental Lab on a flatbed truck and driving it to a parking lot past the Olney-Margolies Athletic Center is only one of several options for the building that were discussed at an April 3 community meeting the University hosted to discuss its physical development. The UEL, along with two other buildings, is currently standing in the way of the University's planned Mind Brain Behavior Building on Angell Street next to the Walk.

To make way for the new home of the Department of Cognitive and Linguistics Sciences, the Department of Psychology and the administrative offices of the Brain Science Program, the University must submit an amendment to its Institutional Master Plan, the current version of which has already been approved by the city.

Thursday's meeting - made up mostly of East Side and Wayland Square residents and Brown administrators - was required by law "to show (the public) what is changing," Richard Spies, executive vice president for planning and senior adviser to the president, told community members. "It's a good process to go through."

The UEL was converted from an old carriage house to hold the Center for Environmental Studies in 1981, and it was renovated in 1983 to become what Professor Emeritus of Environmental Studies Harold Ward called the most "energy efficient building on campus," according to a Nov. 7 article in The Herald

The building aimed 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," according to Encyclopedia Brunoniana.

Along with the UEL, the two houses at 127 and 129 Angell Street must be "removed" before construction of the Mind Brain Behavior Building begins in spring 2009, McCormick said. Both houses are owned by the University and rented to students.

Though the University has named 11 possible sites for the building - including Pembroke Field and the parking lot of Barus and Holley - it has had little luck finding homes for the building on campus.

During the meeting, Chris Tompkins of the College Hill Neighborhood Association called Pembroke Field "the most underutilized space in all of Providence." According to Spies, the field is the "largest undeveloped site" Brown owns.

Moving the buildings would be expensive, Spies said. Relocating the Peter Green House last summer cost about $5.5 million, according to McCormick.

"We can't find a site where we get more benefit than damage," McCormick said. The concerns range from the grade of hills to damaging trees while moving the buildings.

"If we exhaust all the possibilities ... the importance of (the Mind Brain Behavior Building) is such that we would have to go ahead," Spies said. "We think six to eight months is time to explore as many alternatives as people are going to come up with."

The University can't wait forever to "move on with the plan," McCormick said in the meeting.

If the UEL does indeed get moved, it will probably be made into a smaller building, McCormick told community members, and therefore won't be able to hold the growing department. The department needs more space, he said, as its success has come to mean that "it's going to outgrow its space."

One audience member called it "unacceptable" for Brown to announce that the options are "exhausted."

"There has never been an actual interest in preserving the space for the program," said Wei Ying Wong PhD'07. "(The Center for) Environmental Studies ... has gone out of its way to serve its community."

Marian Thorpe '04, an environmental studies and ethnic studies concentrator, agreed. "It's been a community space" that brings Brown students and the community together, she said. People from outside Brown feel comfortable there, she said.

"We would really like the program with the building," Wong said. "We aren't seeing the building as just a physical space."

An article in Monday's Herald ("No easy way to move UEL, Brown tells community," April 7) incorrectly referred to former College Hill Neighborhood Association president Chris Tompkins as the current president. Will Touret is the CHNA's current president.



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