Cummings Center construction on schedule despite worker injury, mixed faculty attitudes

The Cummings Center construction site is pictured on Feb. 3. Ann Marie Burke / The Tufts Daily

Construction remains on schedule for the Joyce Cummings Center, despite faculty’s mixed perspectives on the building design and a recent on-site injury. 

A worker was injured on the structure’s fourth floor when strong winds caused a piece of the structure’s decking to hit the worker on Jan. 16 at about 1:30 p.m. According to TuftsInterim Director of Public and Environmental Safety Chip Coletta, the incident mobilized Tufts Emergency Medical Services (TEMS), Armstrong Ambulance, the Medford Police Department and the Medford Fire Department (MFD), in addition to the Tufts University Police Department (TUPD).

Ruth Bennett, the director of strategic capital programs who is responsible for the construction of the new academic building at the intersection of Boston Avenue and College Avenue, said that no oversights led to the accident.

Bennett added that there have been no other accidents on the site and that the construction company will implement additional preventative safety measures as part of its review of the incident and monitoring of the site.

“We hold our contractors to high safety standards, and thankfully, incidents such as this one are rare,” Bennett wrote in an email.

The Cummings Center is one of Tufts’ most recent investments in new infrastructure on the Medford/Somerville campus. Like Tufts’ other major projects in recent years, such as the Collaborative Learning and Innovation Complex at 574 Boston Ave. and the Science and Engineering Complex, the Cummings Center will also house a wide range of disciplines.

The Departments of Computer Science, Economics and Mathematics are among some of those relocating to the new building, but the departments also contain a range of mixed attitudes towards the design of the new building.

Chair of the Department of Mathematics Kim Ruane reported a wide range of opinions about the move within her department.

“Some of our faculty feel they were not consulted nearly enough (or early enough) on the major decisions about space allocation for occupant groups and classrooms,” Ruane wrote in an email to the Daily.

Ruane expressed several concerns among math department faculty, which included management of space in the Cummings Center, reduction of faculty office size and departure from the department’s long-time home in Bromfield-Pearson, among others.

One issue of particular concern to the math department faculty is the ability to open windows to self-regulate the indoor climate, which Ruane explained was something that faculty advocated for but were denied. She added that some buildings on campus are “unbearably hot” during the winter, seemingly conflicting with Tufts’ goal of energy efficiency.

“While we understand the need for energy efficiency, many of us are concerned about basic climate control given that we will not be able to open our windows for fresh air,” Ruane wrote. 

Dan Richards, chair of the department of economics, expressed concern about the volume of pedestrian foot traffic in and out of the building, especially with the opening of the new “Medford/Tufts” Green Line Extension station a few feet away.

“The building will house three of the largest [School of Arts and Sciences] departments,” Richards wrote in an email. “The class-time flow of students to those three departments alone would likely lead to some congestion at the already-crowded College Avenue and Boston Avenue intersection.” 

Richards added that the increased foot traffic would have implications for the schedules of both students and faculty.

“What all this will mean in terms of faculty and students getting to classes and meetings on time–and what it will mean in terms of pedestrian safety–are further sources of concern,” Richards wrote.

Both department chairs, however, expressed overall excitement for the move into the new building.

“On balance, the Economics Department is excited to be moving into the new Cummings Building,Richards wrote. “Its offices and classrooms are technologically up to date; the Economics floor includes a modern Economics lab space; and for the first time, there will be a dedicated workspace for the growing number of Ph.D. students.”

Ruane similarly emphasized the excitement among math department faculty.

“We have outgrown our current building so moving into a space where the department can be all together in one place (and with a few planned offices for growth) is a huge plus,” Ruane said. “Just having the opportunity for chance interactions with colleagues from other departments is something we have never really had in Bromfield-Pearson because of its location on campus.”

Kathleen Fisher, chair of the Department of Computer Science, also expressed the opportunities her department sees in the move.

“The Department of Computer Science is very excited about moving into the new space. The entire department will fit in one building for the first time in a very long time, which will foster collaborations within the department,” Fisher wrote in an email to the Daily.

Fisher emphasized the benefits of the expanded teaching and collaborative spaces in the new building.

“The new space will be able to do a much better job of accommodating all the students interested in studying computer science,” Fisher wrote. “We’re hopeful that the increased space will help us foster the strong sense of community among our students.”

Richards added that forthcoming renovations to Braker Hall, the economics departments‘ longtime home, may further complicate the attitudes among the faculty in the department.

Braker Hall has been the home of Economics for a very long time. While it’s always hard to move to a new place, everyone recognizes that Braker (and its sibling, the Lincoln-Filene building) desperately need repair,” Richards wrote. “If, however, the Braker site is redeveloped and modernized and to provide similarly up-to-date offices, labs, and classrooms, there will probably be a number of faculty thinking that Economics should be moved back into its traditional home on the quad.”

The academic departments plan on moving into the Cummings Center over the summer of 2021. The first classes in the building will be held that fall.


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