UWM broke some very frozen ground on Wednesday, taking the first concrete step toward a new chemistry building. Inside the adjacent Kenwood Interdisciplinary Research Complex, dignitaries lifted a smoking lemonade toast to the start of a project that’s been 10 years in the making.

At the suggestion of Chemistry Department Chair Joseph Aldstadt, the toast – smoking with the help of carbon dioxide cubes – was given in the name of Antoine Lavosier, known as the father of chemistry. Outside the building in near-zero temperatures, UWM alum Scott Christman (BS in civil engineering) put the excavator to work on the first shovelful of dirt.

Hailing the start of the long-sought project was a group that included Chancellor Mark Mone, UW System President Tommy Thompson, Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley and Scott Gronert, dean of the College of Letters & Science.

Many careers rely on chemistry

The new building will help prepare students for the many careers that rely on a strong background in chemistry, Mone said. While the stereotype of chemists is people in white coats working with beakers, skills in the field are used by nurses, pharmacologists, nuclear medicine technologists, forensic scientists, teachers and others, he said.

Thompson talked about how the new building will help grow talent in Wisconsin.

“This new facility will represent much of what the Wisconsin Idea is all about,” Thompson said. “To meet the state’s biggest and thorniest challenges and, most importantly, to equip our students with the knowledge and tools they need to succeed.”

New state-of-the art facilities like this are really an investment in the potential of Wisconsin’s citizens and businesses, Thompson said.

Helping the talent pipeline

Crowley emphasized how important the new building is to the county and how it can be part of efforts to increase the talent pipeline within Milwaukee County for both Black and white students in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields that are so important to future careers. “We have to find ways to bridge these gaps.”

The new building will help UWM attract, retain and train the next generation of scientists so they can contribute to innovation, discovery and analysis, Gronert said.

Figures from a 2021 American Chemistry Council fact sheet showed chemistry industry jobs generated $1 billion in payroll across Wisconsin and $121 million in state and local tax revenue. One in five new jobs in Wisconsin are in science, technology, engineering and math fields, which are rooted in chemistry, Aldstadt said.

UWM received state-supported borrowing to begin work on the building as part of the UW System’s $1 billion 2019-2021 capital budget plan. Construction is scheduled to be completed in late 2023 or early 2024 at a cost of $118 million.

Beyond UWM

The new four-story, 163,400-square-foot building will serve as a gateway to the STEM buildings and departments that house those subjects – science, technology, engineering and mathematics. It will include space for the nearly 5,000 UWM students who take chemistry and biochemistry classes each year.

In addition to UWM students who take chemistry, so do high schoolers and middle schoolers from across the state and K-12 teachers who come to learn how to design classroom lessons for their students.

“As the ‘central science,’ students in a broad array of fields — natural sciences, health sciences, engineering — have curricula requiring knowledge of chemistry, an understanding of the structure and reactivity of matter in its myriad forms,” Aldstadt said.

The new building will replace one that was built in 1972.

webcam has been set up to show the progress of the building’s construction.

Read the full UWM press release here