Students, faculty and staff are watching the construction of the new Biomedical Engineering and Optics building, which will be named after entrepreneur Robert Goergen ’60, who donated $10 million for the construction of the building. It will be the first new structure in 17 years to be used by undergraduate students, graduate students, post-doctorates and professors.

“With the building we will have a better research program,” Biomedical Engineering major and sophomore Elizabeth Lim said. “I’m only a sophomore, so as I get older, I will be able to explore more opportunities.”

With 101,000 square feet of space, it will provide over 70 new laboratory rooms, several computer labs, classrooms, lecture halls with tiered seating, individual LAN jacks and power plug-ins, an auditorium, public lounges on every floor and offices for the Optics and Biomedical Engineering departments.

Also, in 90 percent of regularly occupied space, occupants will be in direct line of sight of the outdoors.

Construction began in April of 2005 and is expected to be finished this December.

There must be a leeway period between construction and move-in to ensure the building runs safely. Thus, there may be some courses held there in the spring, but none are guaranteed until the fall of 2007.

The first through third floors will be Biomedical Engineering while the Optics Institute will occupy the fourth and fifth floors. The sixth floor contains much of the building’s mechanics and will not be used by any department.

The center atrium, named the Munnerlyn Atrium after Charles Munnerlyn ’69, who donated $3 million toward construction of the building, will stand six stories tall and host a coffee bar and a baby grand piano.

“My hope is the atrium will expand to include light sandwiches, salads and lunchtime concerts,” Director of the Institute of Optics Wayne Knox said.

Over $32 million was raised for the new building. About $15 million came from alumni donations and the rest came predominantly from the Whitaker Foundation, New York State and federal funds.

The Biomedical Engineering department and Optics Institute joint use is meant to foster a natural relationship.

“Some people look at this project and they say it’s about Optical Engineering and Biomedical Engineering,” Knox said. “It’s more than that – it’s working together, it’s a mixing event, lots of BME and Optics students bumping into one another.”

Even the architecture of the building is designed to support that connection.

“We wanted to create an environment to promote collaboration,” University Architect Paul Tankel said. “The main atrium space is meant to bring people together so they can talk.”

Creating connections is also a key part of the building’s sustainability and environmental conscious efforts.

Twenty-three percent of the building materials have come from within 500 miles of Rochester – a positive number considering common construction practices – and there will be a bio-retention storm water management system that collects water from a 24-hour rainfall event, filtering and purifying it on-site to annihilate contaminates and prepare it for regular use.

Although the new building has earned enough certification points through the U.S. Green Building Council, it will not be Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified.

LEED certification distinguishes buildings that are designed, constructed and operated in an environmentally sound way.

“Also, over 80 percent of the waste from construction has been diverted from the landfill,” Tankel said. “Some has been recycled, some has been reused.”

“It’s really exciting to be in the Optics program when such a big transition is happening. I can’t wait to have new facilities,” president of the University’s Optical Society of America and junior Katie Schwertz said. Erickson can be reached at

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