Construction of new Scripps Pitzer Science Center pushed back as CMC searches for science chair

A student walks across a bridge between two buildings underneath an archway.
The estimated cost of the new building is $65 million. (Anna Horne • The Student Life)

Construction of the new 70,000-square foot Scripps Pitzer Science Center building, which is expected to be completed by fall 2021, is set to begin later this spring, according to Pitzer College spokesperson Anna Chang. Meanwhile, Claremont McKenna College’s efforts to found its own science department continue to gestate as the school searches for a department chair.

Initial Scripps Pitzer Science Center construction was slated to begin in January, according to a construction schedule emailed to Scripps College students in December 2019 from the Scripps Facilities Department. 

However, the colleges have yet to break ground. Chang told TSL via email Feb. 13 that “pre-construction work is underway,” and that Pitzer and Scripps now expect the “official groundbreaking to be late spring.”

Classes may start at the new building as early as spring 2022, Chang said.

The new building will be located at the current site of the Revelle parking lot at Scripps. 

Scripps facilities urged students in their email to prepare for “the noise and inconvenience associated with heavy construction operations when the spring 2020 semester begins,” and told students that the college is “doing everything possible to minimize the effects of this disruption.” 

Across the street, nearly a year and a half after it was announced, CMC’s future science department remains in the planning stages as the college gathers funds and searches for the department’s first chair, according to Dean of Faculty Peter Uvin, who presented an update on the science center at a discussion Feb. 5.

Last April, the school’s trustees decided to hold off on officially leaving the joint department until CMC met an undisclosed fundraising threshold, leaving the timeline for CMC’s departure hazy.

Uvin said the next step in the planning stage is to find the first chair of the new department, which he said is critical. CMC plans to select the first chair by April, to begin work July 1.

“If we don’t find [them], well, then we’ll continue the search until we find the right person,” Uvin said. “This is a very important decision because this person is going to be at the heart of so many decisions afterwards.”

Uvin did not name any candidates, but said the college has begun to select individuals from its initial candidate pool for another stage of interviews, with the intention of bringing the finalists to campus to meet students and faculty this semester.

Last February, Scripps and Pitzer announced a fundraising goal of $65 million for the new building. Chang said via email that the colleges’ plan for reaching this mark “is a combination of donor gifts, cash savings and debt,” and that they “continue to seek donor contributions to relieve the need to take debt.”

Pitzer received a $3 million donation from the Pitzer Family Foundation in April 2019.

When asked more specifically about fundraising progress, Chang said via email that Pitzer and Scripps are “collaborating on proposals to charitable foundations in support of the project.”

In addition to the new building, Pitzer and Scripps science students may benefit from CMC’s so-called Keckxit.

Former Pitzer Dean of Faculty Nigel Boyle told TSL in September that CMC’s withdrawal should reduce average class sizes from 28 to 19, which would allow students to better connect with professors inside and outside of the classroom.

Students have had mixed reactions to Keckxit. Some have worried about CMC leaving while others have been excited by the opportunities a smaller department and new building provide. 

“Since CMC will do its own thing with this withdrawal, I feel like it will separate the two, the CMC students and the Scripps and Pitzer students, which will allow more opportunities for Pitzer and Scripps students,” said Sora Sato PZ ’23, a prospective neuroscience major at Keck. “It will allow better connections with the professors, with the outside world and with internships.”

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CMC students have different perspectives on Keckxit. 

Jeremy Lahr ’22 CM, a mathematics major on the pre-dental track, said he supports it.

“I know that it’s been a problem at Keck in the past, with professors having to teach things that they don’t or that they wouldn’t normally teach,” Lahr said. “So I hope that that is no longer a problem at the new CMC science department.” 

“But besides that, I just hope that it has all of the same classes that were offered at Keck and that we can do well,” Lahr added.

Others say they’re still unclear on what the college’s plans are. 

“I don’t know any specific details [because] a lot of the information is contradictory and I don’t know what’s reliable so I just don’t remember anything,” Nayeli Gutierrez ’22 CM said.

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Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the projected completion date of Scripps Pitzer Science Center construction was spring 2023. It is in fact fall 2021. TSL regrets this error.
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