CMC shifts campus plans for a new science building

a layout of proposed buildings and sports facilities
CMC’s revised master plan incorporates more construction on the east side of campus, including a new integrated science center and sports complex. (Courtesy: City of Claremont)

Claremont McKenna College is planning significant changes to its campus in coming years, including the construction of a new integrated sciences center, even as the school’s controversial withdrawal from the W.M. Keck Science Department remains up in the air.

In late July, CMC officials presented the Claremont Architecture Commission with a proposal to revise the college’s 2012 master plan in order to shuffle around new academic, administrative, student and athletic facilities. The commission approved the adjustments.

The new 135,000 square foot, four-story science building will be constructed on the site of CMC’s current baseball field on the corner of Claremont Boulevard and Ninth Street.

“The new center is contemplated to include teaching and research labs, classrooms, an innovation center, and a range of other multipurpose uses,” paperwork filed by the college said.

CMC originally announced the creation of its own science department in fall 2018, along with its intention to leave Keck, which it jointly administers along with Scripps College and Pitzer College.

But three years later, the college still hasn’t officially declared its intent to leave. The process was pushed back due to fundraising constraints in April 2019. Last month, CMC announced a founding chair for its new department: Ran Libeskind-Hadas, who was previously professor of computer science at Harvey Mudd College.

Now, Vice President and General Counsel Matthew Bibbens CM ’92 said, the independent department continues to grow even as CMC’s commitment to Keck evolves.

“It is not yet fully clear whether or not CMC will, if you will, formally withdraw from Keck, or there might be some other partnership remaining there. I don’t want to give the impression that those final decisions have been made,” Bibbens told the commission. “But we have decided that, as a minimum, we will have a complementary department of integrated sciences that has a particular computational focus at CMC.”

CMC President Hiram Chodosh drew a contrast between the college’s teaching capabilities through Keck — which is currently expanding into a new building — and opportunities in a new facility.

“Our current program at Keck Science has been burdened by a lack of space, and that lack of space has prevented us from hiring the tenured, tenure-track faculty that we needed and we’ve had to rely on a great number of visitors and adjuncts,” he said. “So in a way, we’re not increasing the overall number of faculty but rather replacing the current faculty we have, who are part-time or visitors or adjuncts, with strong tenured, tenure-track faculty who are great teacher-scholars.”

The construction of the science center will finally push CMC to leverage its property on the east side of Claremont Boulevard, currently a quarry, to replace athletic facilities displaced by the new building.

Plans for the sports complex include a baseball field, softball field, combination football field/track, and a 30,000 square foot fieldhouse.

As part of the project, CMC is funding a redesign of Claremont Boulevard adjacent to its campus, between Sixth Street and Ninth Street. The project calls for protected bicycle lanes in both directions, possible removal of pine trees along the west side of the street, improved pedestrian crossings and new traffic signals. 

Previously, CMC’s 2012 master plan had called for an alumni and admissions-focused building at Ninth and Claremont, as well as a significant new campus center that officials said the college no longer needs due to improvements at locations including the Emett Student Center, which includes the Hub, and Roberts Pavilion.

“This is a particularly exciting opportunity for us, in a high-value way, to create a next generation integrated sciences program with strong connections to our core strengths in policy and business and the liberal arts more generally, and we’re really very very excited about this shift in resources away from what we had planned for many years, to build a big student center,” Chodosh added.

Redistributing the planned construction farther east will better connect all parts of the college, city staff projected.

“I think this will improve the connectivity through the campus, as well as reduce the potential for overbuilding and congestion in the western portions of the campus,” Chris Viers, the city’s principal planner, said.

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