WPI Wire, Vol. 10, No. 2 - Summer 1996

Higgins Labs rededicated after $8.5 million renovation

Despite a spring rainstorm that brought out umbrellas, the rededication of Higgins Laboratories took place on schedule on April 29. The event was the culmination of a two-year, $8.5 million renovation and expansion that included construction of a four-story structure at the rear of the building with classrooms, laboratories, an elevator, and the mechanical, electrical and plumbing support systems for the building.

President Edward A. Parrish, in his welcoming remarks, noted that "we are again celebrating Higgins Labs and the culmination of a marvelous success story-- the renovation of a 50-year-old building into a state-of-the-art facility dedicated to the education of the future's mechanical engineers." Parrish said the renovation was a story of collegiality among the Mechanical Engineering faculty, the Physical Plant staff, the Physical Facilities Committee and the Mechanical Engineering Advisory Board. "Together, these groups designed their dream on paper: a building that is efficient and appropriate for mechanical engineering today and for 20 years from now," said Parrish. "These dreams were transformed into plans by an inspired contractor, Cutler Associates."

Also recognized in the audience were foundations, alumni, friends and donors. "This rededication, or rebirth, of Higgins Laboratories marks the beginning of a new era for mechanical engineering at WPI," said Mohammad Noori, department head. "The history of this institution, the history of the Two Towers, is intertwined with the history of our department." Donald N. Zwiep, professor and department head emeritus of mechanical engineering, presented a historical perspective of mechanical engineering. Others helping to rededicate the facility included James N. Heald, who chairs the Board of Trustees' Physical Facilities Committee, and Michel Besson, chairman and CEO of Norton Co.

At the rededication, Parrish read a letter that noted that 50 years before another group stood near this same site, breaking ground for the new Mechanical Engineering building. "I'd like to close by reminding us of those other donors -- those who are commemorated on the handsome new plaque outside the lecture hall. And by reminding us of the continuity of WPI and its tradition of excellence, begun 131 years ago."

Parrish also read a letter from Milton Higgins, who could not attend. He reminded those present that it was Milton Higgins' family who took the lead in supporting the original construction of Higgins Labs, which was named for his grandfather, Milton Prince Higgins, supervisor of WPI's Washburn Shops and one of the founders of Norton Co.

Here is the text of the Higgins letter.

I am sorry not to be with you this afternoon for this nostalgic occasion. It is an occasion I would like to share particularly with our new president, Ed Parrish, because it represents to me a continuity that goes back many years.

I have seen many changes at WPI during my long lifetime. I was born in 1903 when my parents lived on the first floor of a three-decker about where this building now stands. My father graduated from this school in 1893. His father, my grandfather, was a pr ofessor of mechanical engineering at WPI. He was in reality an inventor who learned about mechanics in Manchester, N.H. One of his better known inventions was the old plunger elevator--forerunner of Otis-- which was run by water pressure and required a ho le in the ground as deep as the height above ground that it was designed to reach. He was hired in 1868 to run Washburn Shops just across West Street. He engineered machinery which Tech students produced as part of their education. My grandfather sold the m, returning the money to WPI. For this he was fired. Tech trustees at that time did not feel that it was suitable for an educational institution to make money. We might look upon such an enterprise a little differently today.

When the addition to this building was finished, Acting President Jack Brown gave my wife, Alice, and me a tour. We were particularly interested in the clever way the architect had kept the old building and incorporated the new one into it. Continuity, I believe, is important for many reasons and this building is a great example of continuity. I am proud to be part of the Tech traditions.

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