When the college announced that the beloved Science Center L-wing was to be temporarily replaced with “lab trailers” for the 2018-2019 school year, many imagined a “Breaking Bad” scenario complete with actual trailers on the outer rim of campus and mysterious blue liquid spilling out of dirty glassware, according to senior lab instructor Nick Doe. However, once the centers were actually revealed, “lab trailers” proved to be a misleading name, as they didn’t resemble those in the popular TV show at all.
The L-wing of the Science Center has been Wellesley College’s on-campus lab space since 1977, and served students taking lab courses, faculty teaching said courses and students and faculty performing independent research. Many people depend on a reliable and functional lab to get their work done, and the old facilities were starting to show their age. The school is temporarily using what are officially called “modular labs” where the Gray Lot used to be in order to continue science and lab instruction on campus. However, students tend to refer to them as “lab trailers.”
Doe, a faculty member who has been working on Wellesley’s campus for 26 years as a senior chemistry lab instructor, teaches organic and introductory chemistry labs and is especially excited for the basic functionality of the trailers
“Things will work! Gas lines, air lines, plugs, these things will work! These ductless hoods will be brand new,” he said.
Beyond having functional equipment, Doe is also excited for changes in the layout of the new facility.
“They have walls! The [old] L-wing had partitions that would separate the chemistry labs. There were five chem labs in a row. They were designed in the ’60s [or] ’70s to inspire group work but unfortunately everyone could hear each other,” explained Doe. “Professors struggled to teach at the same time because they were using the literal same partition and boards. We [now] have walls, separate rooms, hoods [and] things work for the most part.”
However, not everyone is optimistic about the transition to the new space.
“There were students who knew the L-wing and were comfy with the L-wing. People don’t like change. Students were hesitant to register for labs and were even advised to study abroad and study science at another time,” said Doe. “What’s sad is that these spaces are much better than anyone visualized, which was ‘Breaking Bad’. They are really nice new facilities that are much better than the L-wing infrastructure that was falling apart that inspired the new project in the first place.”
Many students are still hesitant about the new spaces. Eliene Wen ’21 reported trying to avoid lab classes during this school year as much as possible.
“I can say that when choosing classes, I tried my best to avoid classes that would be held in the trailers. I ended up in a [geoscience] class that is taught in the trailers because I didn’t get off the waitlist for two other classes that I would’ve taken instead of the [geoscience] class because they took place in the observatory.”
On Sept. 3, fears for the functionality of the trailers were legitimized when Director of Environmental Health and Safety Suzanne Howard announced that the August heat wave caused mold in one of the labs.
This lead Wen to conclude, “I don’t believe that the trailers would work as a permanent laboratory space; they were designed to be temporary and have already had problems with mold because of the humidity.”
Doe, on the other hand, was amazed with the administration’s responsiveness to the situation.
“Once they [find] something wrong with health or infrastructure they are all over it. There are so many people involved in making it right. They took out chairs, bleached them, replaced some [and] brought people to do mold spore tests. This all happened in a span of three days. [Issues were] resolved so fast even though they know this building is temporary,” he said.
However, many first years felt that the trailers were sufficient for lab instruction and classes. Emery Dutton ’22 was pleasantly surprised, especially given her expectations from the name “lab trailers.”
“I was super impressed. I thought it would be an actual trailer,” said Dutton.
Even if the lab modules are not permanent instruction spaces, the buildings are here to stay. They are set up to become offices after the L-wing labs are completed.
Doe has high hopes for both the trailers and the new L-wing.
“Normally you think of a glass [as] half empty [or] half full, but I was looking at [a] glass quarter full. But we should be grateful that we have a quarterful instead of an empty glass. I will find people every day who [are] criticizing something about this place because it’s new and different,” he said. “But I feel my job has become to be a total cheerleader of this space. What’s nice is the students should be cheerleaders as well. It’s a better space.”
He envisions a place, complete with pink flamingos on the lawn, where the community can thrive and students can hang out, like they did in the old L-wing. He also recognizes problems with the trailers can arise, but is grateful the students speak up when they do.
“In my 26 years here, 90 percent of the change on this campus is because of students. When students complain to me about something, [I tell them] make sure you’re complaining to the right person who can do something for you,” he said.
Even if Wellesley students won’t always be taking classes in the lab trailers, they are still here to stay in one form or another. While students were amused with the “Breaking Bad” possibility of the new learning centers, they hope that the new facilities will prove to be as fantastic and functional as promised.