March 4, 2009

Halfway There

School of Dental Medicine vertical expansion project headed to a November dedication

By Jacqueline Mitchell

“Overall, we are slightly ahead of schedule by a couple of weeks,” says A. Joseph Castellana, executive associate dean. Photo: Alonso Nichols

High over Kneeland Street, more than 1,700 new window panes gleam in the mid-winter sun from the five new floors atop the dental school tower. Although the building is still girdled with staging, and a busy cargo elevator makes dozens of trips each day up and down the Washington Street side of the school, the expansion project is officially halfway done. A dedication ceremony is slated for November 20.

Some 1,400 tons of concrete and 1,200 pieces of steel went into the construction of the five new floors at Tufts University School of Dental Medicine, which now rises 15 stories above the Boston skyline.

With the installation of the window panes over winter break, the new space is essentially enclosed. “That transitions the job from one of steel and mechanical systems to one of an interior fit-up job,” says A. Joseph Castellana, executive associate dean.

That means the 130 workers on site each day are busy wiring, plumbing and installing sheet rock in the new space, starting on the twelfth floor and making their way up to the fifteenth. The building’s mechanical systems—heating, ventilation, air conditioning, electrical—are housed on the ninth and tenth floors, while the eleventh floor will remain as shell space to accommodate future growth. New carpeting, furniture, operatories and other equipment for the new clinic space are on order.

In February, workers were also scheduled to complete construction on the stairway connecting the new floors to each other and the rest of the dental tower. Known as Stair 5, the glassed-in staircase at the corner of Kneeland and Washington streets will let lots of light into the school, while lending a more open feeling to that busy urban intersection.

At the end of the month, two of the new high-speed elevators were scheduled to begin shuttling to all 15 floors, while the last two old elevators were closed for refitting. All four should be in service late this summer.

“Overall, we are slightly ahead of schedule by a couple of weeks,” says Castellana.
Meanwhile, renovations are taking place on the old floors as well. The windows on the Kneeland Street side of the building are being replaced to give the front of the dental school a uniform look. The lower floors will also be retrofitted to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The construction “has been a lot less disruptive than I ever imagined for students and for patients,” says Mark Gonthier, associate dean for admissions and student affairs, who acknowledged the real challenges may lie ahead as students, faculty and clinic patients move into the new 95,000-square-foot space over winter break at the end of 2009.

To keep the school community informed about the progress of construction, Gonthier has been leading monthly tours, taking small groups of students, faculty, staff and alumni up on the roof of the building.

School administrators are also giving thought to how the existing floors of the dental tower will be reconfigured once the new addition is ready for occupancy to achieve the best balance of clinics, classrooms, labs and offices. The renovation of the existing space probably will be done over several years because of the economic downturn and to minimize disruption of patient care and the educational process, according to Dean Lonnie H. Norris.

Jacqueline Mitchell can be reached at

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