A high-tech, visually exciting building, signaling a new era in aerospace engineering research, is now under construction on the Boulder campus of the University of Colorado.
“This is a very important project for us,” says Joshua Lindenstein, a spokesman for the office of strategic relations at CU, “and one that a lot of planning has gone into.”
Currently, the school’s aerospace engineering program is housed in the Engineering Center, a 1960s modernistic brick structure on the main campus.
The new building, on CU’s east campus, is partly being built to accommodate the school’s continued enrollment growth. That growth has seen a steady increase from less than 650 in the fall of 2011 to around 1,000 today.
CU officials additionally predict that enrollment in the program could increase between 10 and 20 percent in the next three years.
One of the reasons for the program’s popularity, notes Douglas Smith, assistant dean for programs and engagement at CU’s College of Engineering and Applied Science, is its centrality.
The program, he says, “is a hub for the aerospace industry in Colorado because it has become the center of activity among large corporations.”
This means that giant corporations like Bell Aerospace, Lockheed Martin, and Raytheon regularly work with the program, as do “small local corporations and start-ups.”
It is, in fact, the top National Aeronautics and Space Administration-funded public institution program in the world.
“Our faculty and students are at the heart of this hub of activity, as all parts have an overlapping interest in what they are doing,” adds Smith.
The new structure is going up along Discovery Drive, sandwiched between the Sustainability, Energy and Environmental Complex, and the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics’ Space Science Building.
First talked about nearly a decade ago, but delayed due to a lack of state funding, the project last year received $5.5 million to begin the design phase of the structure, with CU’s Board of Regents this summer approving $82.5 million in spending authority to actually build the new school.
That $82.5 million was part of a larger $300 million in new construction and renovation projects at CU that were also approved by the regents.
At more than 144,000 square feet, the four-story building housing modern lab space, classrooms and offices will be by any measure a magnificent structure.
“It’s going to be a building that is very open,” notes Lewis Groswald, program director for the Ann and H.J. Smead Department of Aerospace Engineering Sciences.
“It’s designed to be as porous with light as possible,” says Groswald.
But the new building’s symbolism, enhancing CU’s reputation as a leader in aerospace education and research, is additionally important to CU officials.
In a statement, CU Chancellor Philip DiStefano declared that the new structure “showcases our commitment to enhancing the ability of our students and faculty members to lead in a way that is innovative and impacts humanity in a positive way.”
As planned, the building, which has not yet been officially named, will be surrounded by wide vistas of open green space on both the structure’s north and south sides.
Visitors entering the building will see an inviting and spacious lobby, with a “student launch pad” collaborative space off to the side.
“There are different centers within the department,” says Groswald, “but the space in the new facility will allow these centers to overlap, providing flexibility for the different research that is being conducted.”
The building will also house a 210-person auditorium and classroom, a pilot lab with dozens of computers, and a large warehouse-like space for unmanned aerial systems research.
Upper floors of the structure will house a payload operation center and human spaceflight workshop, with a roof design that will allow for satellite tracking and other research.
Groswald notes that as the building takes shape, the program’s faculty, staff, and students are watching its progress and anticipating the date of completion. “Everyone is definitely excited about this,” he says.
Work on the new building is expected to wrap in the summer of 2019, in time for that year’s fall semester.
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