Behind the scenes of Butler’s science complex construction

The first phase of construction will be complete by fall 2021. Photo by Meghan Stratton.


Since breaking ground over a year ago, the massive, cordoned construction zone between Gallahue Hall and the Holcomb Building has given way to a brand-new connector building and the beginnings of a glittering glass atrium. The 96,000-square-foot project is the result of over ten years of planning, and as the metal framework grows every day, Butler’s vision for a cutting-edge new science complex is coming to life.

There were several different groups involved in the initial project proposal, but it wasn’t until June 2019 that the Board of Trustees officially approved the plans. LuAnne McNulty, associate dean and chemistry department chair, said she and Jay Howard, dean of the college of liberal arts and sciences, were “on pins and needles” awaiting the results of the Board’s decision. 

“And I think, for days, both of us just walked around on a cloud of air because it was so exciting,” McNulty, also a chemistry professor, said. “And it was also, I think, for a lot of people, kind of an emotional moment, because so many of us came here and have been working in these facilities that we were told would be eventually upgraded. And so when it finally happened, it was just like, ‘Oh my gosh.’”

After the announcement, Butler worked to solidify its plans and divided the construction process into three phases. Phase I will be completed in fall 2021, and the construction of the remaining two phases is on track to be completed by 2023. The project will add 11 classrooms of different sizes, the largest of which will be able to seat 75 students. Additionally, the complex will provide dedicated spaces for biology, chemistry, psychology, physics and engineering dual degree program majors. 

Butler is hoping to raise $42 million of the $100 million renovation budget from donors. Meagan Burton-Krieger, development officer for university advancement, said donors have already contributed around $30 million in gifts and commitments. 

“The beauty of that is that we have so many passionate alumni and friends who are into what this building will mean, both to our students and our faculty but also to the city and to the industry around town,” Burton-Krieger said.

Phase I

Phase I of the science complex construction project focuses on connecting Gallahue Hall and the Holcomb Building through the creation of a new connector building. This building will house classrooms, private study areas, a completely renovated science library, research labs and common spaces. 

The building’s central focus is a large glass atrium, which is currently in the final stages of installation and completion. The atrium will serve as a common collaboration space, designed for students to casually socialize or to gather for larger assemblies like poster sessions and guest speakers.

Burton-Krieger said this space is designed intentionally; the science departments have traditionally struggled to figure out where to hold these types of events, as there is currently no large gathering space located near the science buildings.










The new science complex will feature an atrium with glass windows. Photo by Xan Korman.

Furniture for the atrium, which is currently being finalized, will include several small tables and chairs for gathering, as well as larger couches and individual chairs by the windows. Toward the west end, the atrium will also feature risers for students to gather on, as part of the Fenneman Gateway donor space.




 Construction has begun on the risers that students will be able to gather on. Photo by Xan Korman.



Once completed, the risers will look similar to depiction in the renderings. Rendering courtesy of Butler University Office of Advancement.

The second floor of the connector building will hold the newly-renovated science library, which is now one floor instead of two. The library will feature a back wall made entirely of glass windows, collaborative group study spaces and individual study hubs. The science library is scheduled to open in March 2021, but the details of how students will enter amid construction is still being determined.

“There are a couple of ways in, so we’re just trying to figure it out at that point with where we are construction wise,” Burton-Krieger said. 



The complex will feature a renovated science library. Photo by Xan Korman.

The renovated science library will feature study spaces for groups and individuals. Rendering courtesy of Butler University Office of Advancement.

Next to the science library, there will be a classroom computer lab. There will also be a study space walled off by glass, similar to the Lacy School of Business’ Innovation Commons. Additionally, on the second floor there will be a classroom with a retractable glass wall meant to accommodate both open and closed environments, depending on the need. Burton-Krieger said this points back to the idea of collaboration within the sciences.


In the complex, there will be a classroom with a retractable glass wall for open and closed environments. Rendering courtesy of Butler University Office of Advancement.

NcNulty said the research and teaching labs were designed with the future of science in mind. Even if science changes drastically in the next 20 years, McNulty said the facilities were designed to be changeable — which translates to the implementation of pod seating and moveable coursework. 

Construction has begun on chemistry and biochemistry resources and classrooms within the complex. Photo by Xan Korman.


New biochemistry research labs will be included in the new complex. Rendering courtesy of Butler University Office of Advancement.





The science complex will also feature new organic chemistry labs. Rendering courtesy of Butler University Office of Advancement.

Phase I of the construction process has not come without outside influences: first, the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March and sent students home from campus. However, Eric Zeronik, senior superintendent at Pepper Construction of Indiana, said the pandemic has not had a big impact on the construction.

“We were back here on our own and able to work, not outside of the limits or anything, but we were able to take advantage of a quiet campus,” Zeronik said.

Despite the pandemic, the project is still on schedule for the original 2023 completion date, although the company did see a few minor delays for materials like glass. The construction project is essentially following the same health policy as Butler: workers are required to do a health check with temperature monitoring each day. Zeronik said they have only had about five workers self-quarantine, but that there haven’t been any positive COVID-19 cases on the project. 

Pepper Construction is also currently priming to conduct construction in the cold winter months. To prepare, they are currently completely renovating the Holcomb Building roof and adding drywall to the connector building at a rate of 170 drywall sheets per day. Zeronik said the construction company is in the process of getting air handler units, what he calls the “heart and lungs” of the building, so the project will have hot air for the winter. 

“We have it to the point now where the main structure is up, we’re really getting the envelope buttoned up for the winter,” Zeronik said. “So when the colder weather comes in, we’ll be dry.”

Phase II

After the connector building is completed for fall 2021, the construction will shift focus to renovating and repurposing the Holcomb Building. The first floor of Holcomb will house the psychology major and neuroscience minor departments, while the physics department will be on the second floor. Finally, Butler’s IT department and the dual-engineering program will be located on the third floor. 

The Holcomb renovation will add classrooms and research labs in addition to common work spaces. Holcomb was the previous home of the Lacy School of Business until fall 2019, and thus the entire construction project needed to wait until the business school moved into their new building. 

Phase III

After Holcomb is completely renovated, Gallahue Hall will be the next construction focal point. The biology and microbiology departments will be housed in the basement and ground floor of Gallahue, and the chemistry and biochemistry departments will occupy the second and third floors. 

There will be several added classrooms and research labs in Gallahue as well. Specifically, one lab on the second floor will be dedicated to biochemical research. 

“It really is an interdisciplinary space…” Burton-Krieger said. “There’s going to be a research space in there that really puts faculty who work together on the same topic together, versus by discipline.”

Additionally, the current auditorium in Gallahue will receive considerable renovations and refreshments to the space. It will continue to serve as a classroom for large lectures. 

Looking toward future phases

As Butler has seen a 50% enrollment increase in the past decade, Burton-Krieger said the science departments will be at capacity upon completion of the science complex expansion and renovation. The college of liberal arts and sciences is the largest college on campus, with over 35 programs. 

Burton-Krieger said Butler has done two things intentionally in the construction process: allocated potential expansion room on the roof for a fourth floor, and left room at the back of the current expansion. 

The complex will have a campus-wide impact, since all Butler students are required to take a Natural World class with a lab element as part of the core curriculum. 

“… Not only does it impact our science majors and our COPHS majors, but also with the core requirement, every student will benefit from this building, which is one of the very few places on campus that actually happens,” Burton-Krieger said. “So this is a project that is for all Butler students.”


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