Excitement grows for research building
Case alumni committed early and big to the vision of a $300 million research building on Case Quad.
By Robert L. Smith
Joe Fakult ’90 signs the agreement, making the largest financial commitment in CAA history.
As a late-day sun streamed through the windows of the stately Tomlinson Library, the spring meeting of the Case Alumni Association board of directors took on historic weight. A financial commitment would trigger a $5 million pledge — the largest in the 138-year history of the association — toward a new research building for science and engineering.
Board president Joe Fakult ’90, seated at the center of a full conference table, reflected on the moment with his pen poised.
“This is really an exciting day in the history of the Case Alumni Association,” he said. “Our mission is to help students, but also to help the school and the faculty. With this commitment, we are playing our role.”
He then signed the agreement pledging $5 million to the Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Building. The university will match the commitment, creating a $10 million investment in what’s envisioned as a new flagship on Case Quad.
The CAA’s gift gave early momentum to a capital campaign aimed at funding a state-of-the-art research building. The plans, which call for a groundbreaking in fall 2024, have captured the imaginations and passions of Case alumni. Several alumni and their spouses were quick to respond with generous donations, including Frank and Jocelyne Linsalata, Tom and Nancy Seitz, and Bob and Anita Smialek, among others.
Still in its early phase, the campaign has raised nearly $50 million toward a goal of $150 million. The university is using bond financing to pay for the other half of the $300 million project by matching gifts.
University President Eric Kaler expressed gratitude for the support from Case alumni, whose fields and majors will be reflected in the new building.
“The ISEB will play a critical role in advancing our research enterprise and enabling us to recruit and retain topnotch faculty and students,” he told Case Alumnus. “To have this level of support from the CAA and several of our closest friends this early in our fundraising efforts speaks to the deep connections the Case School of Engineering and College of Arts and Sciences enjoy with alumni. Their generosity will enable discoveries and innovations from future generations of our engineering and science students and researchers.”
Plans call for a 200,000 square-foot complex to rise next to Tomlinson Hall. It would replace Yost Hall, which is scheduled to be emptied this summer and razed this winter. Built as a dorm in 1950, Yost is home to classrooms and administrative offices, including the Department of Mathematics and Statistics.
Kaler described the new building as transformative, a facility that would helphim expand the research enterprise by $200 million annually. About four times the size of Yost, it would be the first building to rise on Case Quad in 35 years and reunite science and engineering research under one roof.
Kaler outlined plans in December at a meeting of the combined boards of the Case Alumni Association and the Case Alumni Foundation. The CAA approved the landmark pledge in the Tomlinson Library March 30. Joy Ward, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, was there to thank the CAA on behalf of the university.
“This building will be a game changer,” Ward promised, adding that she’s working on design elements with Ragu Balakrishnan, Dean of the Case School of Engineering.
The deans, she said, envision a research building that will foster interdisciplinary research and collaboration, help to attract and retain top faculty, and allow students to work with faculty to advance science.
Balakrishnan had already explained to the board that the school’s current facilities are too small and scattered to allow for that kind of flexibility and teamwork.
“Modern research requires the coming together of multiple faculty members,” he said at the December meeting, adding that peer institutions are forging ahead.
“Most other universities have already embarked on a building like this,” he said.
As plans were formalized, alumni were quick to grasp the concept and the opportunity.
At Case Institute of Technology, Bob Smialek ’65, MS ’67, PhD ’70, said he was taught that multidisciplinary teams spur innovations, as each specialty added something different to a project. He saw that approach work at General Electric as head of engineering for medical systems, and he was encouraged to hear it would be the focus of the new research building.
He added that he appreciates the passion of the project leader, President Kaler, who explained his vision to Bob and his wife, Anita.
“To make something like this work, you need a long-term commitment from a leader, and we have that,” Smialek said. “And it aligns with my personal belief, that you need people from a combination of disciplines working together to create something new.”
Tom Seitz ’70 agrees and says the time to act is now. The former senior vice president of Sherwin-Williams said interdisciplinary research teams have become even more critical in industry, and that Case lacks the facilities to fully practice the model, despite its high-caliber faculty.
“You get to the point where, even though you’re playing your best game, you need a new stadium,” he said. “We’ve seen the need for this for a long time, so we’re happy to see the university moving forward on this, and we’re happy to give it a push.”
Frank Linsalata ’63, a trustee of CWRU and a former chair of the board of trustees, has been involved in many capital projects on campus, including the Linsalata Alumni Center, but this one may top them all.
“What really excites me about this project — it will be the largest investment the university has made in engineering and the basic sciences, beyond anything else we’ve ever done,” he said.
Linsalata said he and others have been working toward this building for about five years, driven by the desire to expand the research enterprise and see Case compete with the best.
“To accomplish that, we need to have labs that are among the best in the country,” he said.
He thinks it’s important that the building will rise on Case Quad, the historic heart of science and engineering.
“I think this sends a message to our alumni that this is a project that we have to get behind,” he said. “I think they will.”