Salem Hall Renovations Show Improvement

It is an exciting time to be a chemist at Wake Forest. Salem Hall, home to the chemistry department, just underwent a 15-month transformation. The renovation covered the 55,000-square foot building and cost over $20 million.

The labs are bigger, the furniture is more decorative, the equipment is more advanced and the infrastructure of the building is easier to navigate.

Students and faculty alike would agree that Salem was in dire need of an upgrade. In fact, the chemistry department has been pushing for a redesign for the past couple of decades; however, due to the severity of the remodeling, the plans were continuously put on hold.

“Science buildings require a lot of infrastructure that brings the cost of renovations significantly higher than other buildings on campus,” said David Wren, Assistant Teaching Professor and Director of the Chemistry Center. “So other projects were always prioritized instead of Salem.”

Another reason that it was challenging to renovate the building was because there was no other place to go. For a proper remodeling, there needed to be a temporary location that could safely house the hazardous chemicals and reactions.

Fortunately, the up-and-coming Wake Downtown building has recently opened and offers a great space.

“I think the catalyst was having swing space in the Downtown campus, where space for the engineering department was unused last year and allowed for all research labs to move for the 15 months of renovation,” Wren said.

Now that the department has moved back home to Salem, many people are excited about the dramatic changes. The whole building was revolutionized from top to bottom. “It is actually hard to recognize anything the resembles the old building,” Wren said.

The massive developments only prove how desperate Salem was for a makeover. For example, the chemistry department has experienced a substantial increase in enrollment over the past 10 years, which congested the already limited amount of teaching and research areas.

“The new labs were designed to hold 48 students, such that they were suitable for pre-lab lectures,” Wren said.“This opened up our large lecture hall for additional lecture sections in the afternoons.”

The renovated space simply did not have enough space for the day-to-day operations of the chemistry department. The new labs provide the proper space and tools.

“Anyone who took a class in Salem 8 knew how bad this classroom was for both professors and students,” Wren said.

Overall, the new and improved Salem offers an appropriate research area. Overall, the building is much safer and more secure.

The lab spaces meet industry standards for square footage per student and have state-of-the-art chemical storage and ventilation.

A major improvement to Salem was the dedication to the Chemistry Center. The Chemistry Center, which is now located on the first floor and boasts large glass windows, is hard to miss. It is also a much more visible space and no longer hidden away in an upstairs classroom or in the basement.

The Chemistry Center now has several whiteboards, study resources, molecular models and a touchscreen monitor that serves as an animated periodic table and helps students to run simulations.

“The new technology in the room and plethora of boards let us tutor larger groups with ease and teach hard to visualize things using computer models on the new interactive board,” said Alex Gerhardstein, a senior chemistry tutor.

These remarkable changes not only improved the aesthetic and convenience of Salem, but it also created a more welcoming environment for students to study and hang out in.

“We are seeing more students studying in the Chemistry Center,” Wren said. “Before the renovation, there were almost no spaces where students could wait for their class, work on lab reports or assignments, or just chill out.”

Students are genuinely impressed by the expensive renovation and are honored to be able to use such an innovative space. 

“The new building is much more organized and the laboratories are more advanced and slick,” said junior Hubert Fan. “Wake Forest students are very fortunate to study chemistry in a very advanced university facility.”