New flagship aerospace facility approved by CU regents

Published: June 15, 2017

A night rendering of the new building design.

CU Boulder is set to begin construction this fall of a new 139,000-square-foot aerospace engineering building that will help the College of Engineering and Applied Science enhance its reputation as a national leader in aerospace education and research.

Approval by the Board of Regents on Thursday paved the way for the long-awaited $82.5 million project, which was first conceived in 2008—at that point as an addition to the current Engineering Center on Main Campus.

The new building is slated for completion by July 2019, in time for the Ann and H.J. Smead Department of Aerospace Engineering Sciences to move into its new East Campus home for the fall 2019 semester.

“This is a watershed moment, not just for CU aerospace, but for our entire college, the university and the state of Colorado,” said Bobby Braun, dean of engineering. “CU Boulder is already recognized as a national leader in aerospace, and this state-of-the-art facility will take us to the next level.”

In addition to providing world-class learning spaces, the new building will group together aerospace engineering’s six main research clusters in a way that facilitates greater collaboration between students and faculty. Among its features will be an indoor flight environment for testing unmanned aerial systems, as well as a unique roof design that accommodates faculty research and provides the lines of sight necessary for activities like satellite tracking.

“This facility will be a beacon of innovation for the students, researchers and industries of the future,” Braun added.

The facility will help accommodate the rapid growth experienced by the aerospace program in recent years. Combined undergraduate and graduate enrollment grew from 647 in fall 2011 to 946 in fall 2016. The rest of the College of Engineering and Applied Science will also benefit thanks to the collaborative spaces and interdisciplinary endeavors that the building will foster between aerospace, mechanical and electrical engineers, as well as the college’s mathematicians and computer scientists.

The college is already well on its way toward achieving its capital campaign fundraising goal for the project, thanks in part to a generous gift earlier this year from Ann Smead and Michael Byram as well as a sponsorship by industry partner Lockheed Martin.

The new building will be located along Discovery Drive between the Sustainability, Energy and Environment Complex (SEEC) and the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics’ (LASP) Space Science Building. The site is also just a short walk from the Center for Astrophysics and Space Astronomy and LASP’s Space Technology Building, helping to create a synergistic hub of space-related programming on East Campus.

“This new building shows our state’s commitment to growing its aerospace industry in a serious way,” said Penina Axelrad, chair of the aerospace engineering sciences department. “Colorado already has the nation’s second-largest aerospace economy, and this flagship facility will strengthen CU’s status as a major hub for innovation in this industry.”

The department’s new home will include a 200-seat auditorium, distance-learning-equipped classrooms, faculty offices and spaces for graduate students. It will also include space modeled after the Integrated Teaching and Learning Laboratory, an award-winning hands-on learning environment at the Engineering Center that has proven crucial to student success.

“The state-of-the-art innovation facility comes at a critical juncture for this nationally-recognized aerospace research hub,” program namesake Ann Smead said in CU engineering’s blog.

With approval by the CU Boulder Design Review Board already in hand, architects are now wrapping up final drawings. Bids from potential general contractors are expected to be returned in mid-September, with groundbreaking anticipated for November.

The College of Engineering and Applied Science advancement team continues to work with prospective philanthropists and industry partners who have expressed interest in helping fund the world-class people and programs to be housed in the new aerospace building. These supporters illustrate a commitment to continued momentum in sustaining a top aerospace engineering program that drives innovation and produces the next generation of space and aeronautics leaders.