December 2, 2009

New Heights at the Dental School

Nearly 1,200 celebrate the completion of the five-story expansion project

By Jacqueline Mitchell

Breathtaking in its newness and with dazzling views of the Boston skyline, the expansion of Tufts University School of Dental Medicine in one of the city’s most densely populated neighborhoods was celebrated as a tour de force during dedication ceremonies on Nov. 20.

“It makes me want to go back to dental school,” Seth Paparian, D86, said of the project that added five floors and 95,000 square feet to the school building at One Kneeland Street in the heart of Chinatown. Paparian was hardly the lone alum who wanted to turn back the clock on his dental education. “I wish the rest of my class could be here, and I wish I could go back to school,” said Warren Woods, D78, D12P.

Watch the dedication of the Dental School’s expansion. Video by Steve Breck

With the late afternoon sunlight slanting through the floor-to-ceiling windows, Dean Lonnie H. Norris, DG80, welcomed nearly 1,200 friends, neighbors, alumni, students, faculty, staff and other members of the Tufts community to the dedication on the building’s new 10th floor, a shell space that will remain unfinished to accommodate future growth.

“A mere 18 months ago, in May of 2008, if you had been sitting where you are right now, you would have been outdoors on the roof,” Norris said of the building, which has grown from 10 to 15 stories. “This shell space represents our potential. Tonight’s celebration is not an end point, but a continuous part of the dental school trying to make itself better.”

Norris’ opening comments set a tone of celebration that lasted well into the night. The dean presented three individuals with the Dean’s Medal, the school’s highest honor, in recognition of their generosity and commitment to the $68 million expansion project: Louis Fiore, D62; Suzi Osher, the widow of Alfred Osher, DG62; and Mark Gonthier, associate dean of admissions and student affairs, who led numerous tours of the construction site and kept the school’s 800 students apprised of the progress of the work.

Careful choreography during the 18-month construction project meant that students’ education continued uninterrupted, and the school clinics continued to treat 500 patients each day.

In his remarks, Tufts President Lawrence S. Bacow took a moment to tip his hat to the architects and construction workers “who do not get enough credit for the work that they do.” He compared the expansion of an occupied building in the middle of downtown Boston to “assembling a Swiss watch, in a ship, in a bottle.” The addition, which was designed by ARC/Architectural Resources Cambridge and built by Shawmut Design and Construction, was nominated for a Building of America Award, in part because of the complexity of expanding a skyscraper in a congested urban neighborhood.

Bacow also thanked the university’s Boston neighbors, students, staff and faculty for their patience and alumni and donors who “helped make this happen during not the easiest of times. Generations to come will benefit and be served by those educated here.”

The result is an education and oral health-care facility, Norris said, that will advance the school’s mission of teaching, research and patient care. In keeping with the school’s longstanding commitment to care for the underserved, the addition has 73 new treatment areas to care for 20,000 patients a year, many of whom have limited or no dental insurance.

Luck of the Lion

With Red Sox Hall of Fame left fielder Jim Rice on hand, members of the Boston Chinese Freemasons Athletic Club performed a traditional Chinese lion dance, meant to drive away bad spirits and bring good luck and fortune to those who enter the building. Then guests were free to explore the spacious and bright new clinics and classrooms on the 11th, 12th and 14th floors. Bottles of wine and sparkling water peeked over what will soon be patient reception desks; bunches of brown and blue balloons brightened every hallway, and live band music set the celebratory tone.

Fittingly, a jazz trio played in Rachel’s Amphitheater, the 75-seat lecture hall on the 14th floor. The space was funded by Louis Fiore, the Dean’s Medal recipient, who named it in honor of his mother. Fiore decided to be a dentist when he was in the seventh grade. His mother, who worked in a carpet factory to support her five children, bought Louis a saxophone. He went on to pay his way through college and dental school by playing that sax four nights a week. Rachel died when Fiore was just 16. “I never forgot her,” Fiore said after the dedication ceremonies. “I can see the smile on her face [if she were here tonight.] Her eyes would be sparkling.”

Across from the amphitheater is the 108-chair simulation learning center, where realistic mannequin heads sit in rows with their anatomically correct mouths agape. Gary Archambault, D79, A10P, recalled with a laugh the “sim clinics” of the 1970s—metal posts with a pair of false teeth clamped to them. With no automatic blower to clear the dust from drilling, Archambault said he acquired the habit of blowing on the practice teeth—a habit he quickly had to unlearn when he started working with real patients.

That’s not something future grads will have to worry about, said John Giunta, A58, D66, DG70, who taught oral pathology at Tufts from 1970 to 2002. “The sim clinic is an impressive thing,” he marveled. “Totally impressive.”

“It’s open, modern, bright. There are beautiful views of the city,” said Kelsey Evelyn, D05, DG07.

The expansive panoramas, courtesy of 1,700 new window panes, are more than eye candy. The windows are designed to bring more light into the building’s interior, saving energy and adding to the sustainable design. The building conforms to LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards, the nationally accepted green building model.

Campo Perez, a postgraduate student in periodontology, says the new space will translate into better patient care. “The view will help patients feel more at ease,” he said. “And we’ll feel more relaxed, too.”

For now, that new day in the new space will have to wait as the school readies for the move up. On Dec. 4, all the administrative offices currently located on the seventh floor will move to the 15th. Once the clinics close for the winter break on Dec. 17, the endodontics and orthodontics departments will move to the 11th floor, and the prosthodontics and periodontics departments will take up residence on the 12th floor.

By the time the second semester begins on Jan. 4, the new clinic waiting rooms will open for patients.

Jacqueline Mitchell can be reached at

For more on the dental school expansion, go to:

See a video on the history of the School of Dental Medicine and the new facility at

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