A Window into the Future of Altschul Hall

Inside construction of the Roy and Diana Vagelos Science Center.

Photography by Diana Sanchez Armenta

Over fresh cider donuts and hot apple cider, Barnard Builds revealed their newest designs and goals for the Roy and Diana Vagelos Science Center on November 1st, 2023.

“The classrooms right now are confined, there’s just artificial light. They had to renovate at some point,” said Izzy Hadad, first-year student on the premed track.

After nearly two years of planning, the renovation is scheduled to fully begin in May 2024 and end in August 2026, and will double the current space dedicated to the sciences on Barnard’s campus. The renovations will also  move all experimental sciences (Biology, Chemistry, Environmental Science, Neuroscience, Physics, and Astronomy) under one roof. 

With a $250 million budget (Barnard’s largest budget ever) and with the single biggest donation ever by Roy and Diana Vagelos, the construction is projected to cost $172 million. The construction is even animal-friendly, with bird glass lining the renovated science building.

The focus of the new development is sustainability. Emily Grandstaff-Rice, one of the architects on this project, said, “The most sustainable thing you can do is renovate an existing building,” although she notes that the option is more expensive. The current 1969 era Altschul Hall will not be torn down, but renovated and expanded northwards to connect to Milbank Hall.

While the new building will be a large improvement for future science students at Barnard, campus will look a little different when students return next fall. Some classes taught by the Barnard Science Department will move across the street to various lab, classroom, and office spaces within Columbia’s campus. Barnard has not shared which specific classes will be affected starting in the Fall 2024 semester.

The mailroom, currently located in the Altschul basement, will eventually be relocated during the renovation but it has not yet been determined where. Students can also expect their walks through campus to look a little different for the next couple of years. The green steps along the side of the Diana Center will be removed and transformed into a temporary sidewalk for students to reach Milbank Hall. As required for student safety by New York City, starting at the edge of Milstein Library and Futter Field, there will be a covered walkway into Milbank.

Despite temporary changes to science class locations, Hadad is looking forward to a renovated Altschul. “The new study spaces [and] windows will be really nice. It’ll be great,” Hadad said.

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