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Photo Credit: Jon Ort / The Daily Princetonian

As the University plans the renovation and expansion of Guyot Hall, which will house the expanding computer science department, members of the Guyot-based geosciences department are preparing for the long-awaited move.

The Guyot renovation, which was made possible by a gift from former Google CEO and Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt ’76 and his wife, Wendy, was announced in May of 2019 and is intended to consolidate the data sciences faculty into one hall. Construction is projected to begin in early 2024.

The University’s announcement briefly mentioned a potential new building for the environmental sciences, where “the Guyot name will be recognized.” 

This new building is included in the Campus Plan, a document which details the University’s framework for development through 2026. According to the plan, several facilities devoted to engineering and environmental studies will be constructed on the east side of campus, along Ivy Lane and Western Way. These new facilities will include space for the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (EEB), the Princeton Environmental Institute (PEI), and the geosciences department. PEI and Geosciences are currently located in Guyot Hall.

“Planning continues to meet the needs for improved and expanded facilities for environmental studies, in line with the Campus Plan framework,” Deputy University Spokesperson Michael Hotchkiss wrote in a statement.

According to University Spokesperson Ben Chang, a donor has not yet been identified for the environmental sciences building. However, the “University’s fundraising efforts continue apace, and environmental studies is a priority area,” Chang said.

Although planning is still in the preliminary stages, faculty in Geosciences and EEB have been meeting with architects to budget square footage. In the next few months, more concrete details will be decided, said Tom Duffy, professor and Associate Chair of Geosciences.

“We’re excited about the possibility of moving to a new, modern building,” Duffy said.

A new environmental sciences building has been in the works for more than a decade, when a committee led by former University president Harold Shapiro convened to explore the possibility. Nonetheless, the recent renovation announcement came as a “bit of a surprise,” said professor of Geosciences Frederik Simons.

Bess Ward, professor and Chair of Geosciences, believes that the forthcoming renovation may expedite the construction of new environmental studies facilities.

“The identification of a donor for the renovation of Guyot Hall means that they can’t throw us out on the street,” Ward said. “It means that they’ll build us a nice, new building before that,” she speculated.

Guyot Hall was built in 1909 and named for Arnold Guyot, the University’s first professor of geology and geography. Although it has served the Geosciences department well throughout the years, the pace of modern sciences requires renovations, Geosciences faculty said.

The original building was not intended for the more lab-intensive work required to make today’s discoveries, Simons said. Ward agreed, highlighting that renovations to accommodate new technology would cost millions.

“We’re going to be sad to leave it, but scientifically, [the new building] is going to be a major improvement,” Ward said.

One of the key features of Guyot is its Great Hall, a two-story tall atrium surrounded by offices, where students and faculty may meet, have coffee, and gather around a nearly-complete dinosaur skeleton — a fossilized  allosaurus — at its center.

Ward, who called the Great Hall “the heart of the department,” said that she intends for a similar space to be created in the new building, along with places to display the rare minerals, ancient bones, and other artifacts scattered throughout Guyot. Ward and others are working with architects to preserve the “identity” of Geosciences, EEB, and PEI in the public display spaces and features. The new facility will emphasize the interconnectedness of the environmental sciences and their relation to every other department on campus, Ward added.

Simons is hopeful that the new building will preserve and enhance Guyot Hall’s role as a hub for public outreach and education.

“[Guyot Hall] is not just a science building,” Simons said. “It combines teaching, research, and outreach to the public.” To that end, Guyot Hall’s specimen collections need to be carefully curated for future display, Simons added. As Geosciences transitions to a new home, he continued, it is important to consider its role as a center for public engagement.

For the Geosciences department, the relocation offers new opportunity.

Through moving, improving, and upgrading facilities, Duffy said, faculty are working to ensure that the new building “reflects and illustrates the science that we do and the beauty of the natural world.”

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