Facilities and Operations Director Damon McFall had to do his best HGTV impression, flipping the new MechSE West facility into student instructional labs and graduate student offices. The Optical Physics Engineering Building was transformed in preparation of the upcoming Mechanical Engineering Building renovation.
The faculty research labs currently located in MEB must move to the Mechanical Engineering Laboratory prior to the renovation of MEB and its adjacent Sidney Lu Center for Learning and Innovation. To make room in MEL, undergraduate instructional labs needed to move to the new temporary location, said McFall.
The white brick building at 607 E. Healey St. was at one time used for groundbreaking research, including plasma technology for TVs, but in the past few years had become a repository for old electronics, furniture, tools, pieces, and parts.
“On first look, no one would ever wanted to have moved into that building,” McFall said. “However, this was the space the College had available. It had already been slotted for demolition in a space swap for the new ECE building. So, the ugly duckling was passed to us.”
To flip this ugly duckling into a comfortable home, McFall wanted to make the space a haven for undergraduates and graduate students alike.
The first floor, home to the labs where undergraduates will work, is covered in quotes of wisdom shared mainly from successful alumni.
The graduate student work areas are on the second floor, which look down onto the work stations bellow. McFall wanted this upper area to have a “think tank” feel. There is room for desks and rest, and a Google-inspired color scheme with bold primary colors. The walls are covered in more quotes that are meant to inspire.
“This space may be the only space they live their Illinois experience; it needs to have an enduring positive impression that will be remembered for decades to come,” McFall said.
He cited the skills he hoped undergrads learned in this building as the ones that made the move possible: defining problems, understanding boundaries, and problem solving.
McFall, Professor Liz Hsiao-Wecksler, Director of Undergraduate Programs Emad Jassim, Lecturer Blake Johnson, and Director of Technical Services Ralf Moller held meetings to design the space and used a build-design approach because of the condensed schedule.
“We steadily worked through cost constraints and innovated new approaches while compromising where it made sense to finalize the project, just in the nick of time,” McFall said.
McFall also thanked MechSE staff members, campus staff, and those in Facilities and Services for helping build, move, design, and clean leading up to opening day.
“I am grateful that everyone worked together to make this an awesome project,” he said. “Each member was needed and each did their part.”
McFall said this was just the first big step in making some major changes to transform the department.
“I’m happy as an alumnus of this department to be able to give back to help us forward.”