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Mech lab renovated into Maxfield Hall for STATS department


Gazi Fuad/Thresher

By Viola Hsia     9/21/21 10:59pm

Maxfield Hall held a ribbon cutting ceremony on Sept. 13, following renovations beginning in fall of 2020 to convert the previous Mechanical Laboratory into a concentrated space for the statistics department. Its renovation was previously scheduled to be completed by May of this year.

The building is named after sponsors Robert and Katharine Maxfield of the Maxfield Foundation, who contributed $5 million to the project. It provides the statistics department its own building in the Engineering Quad, a department that is normally housed in mathematics, according to Luay Nakhleh, the dean of engineering.

Nakhleh said statistics is a fundamental tool for engineering in general.

“It’s very hard to find any faculty member doing research where they don’t use statistics and probability in their field,” Nakhleh said.

Laura Schaefer, the head of the mechanical engineering department, said she approved of the decision to move statistics into the building. Nakhleh said that even though he was not dean at the time the decision was made, he also approved of the decision to renovate the building.

“The [Mechanical Laboratory] was actually not utilized. I believe even the basement itself was abandoned there, it was not used for anything,” Nakhleh said. 

The building now has a newly renovated basement that has three huddle rooms, two new registrar classrooms, conference rooms and newly renovated offices.

The building, one of the first constructed at Rice in 1912, once housed spaces for the mechanical engineering department, along with the Chao Center for Asian American Studies and the civil and environmental engineering departments.

Lila Frenkel, a statistics major, said she was excited the department has its own building.

“Despite the major being relatively small for STEM at Rice, there hasn’t been much community within it,” Frenkel, a Duncan College senior, said.

This renovation comes at a time of new construction and demolition at Rice; the university also has plans to build a new facility for the arts, and a new building for science and engineering. Nakhleh said the engineering department has outgrown its current space so the new engineering building is going to be a large addition for them.

Some of their other departments, like the mechanical engineering department, which was once housed in the Mechanical Laboratory, have dealt with space issues. Schaefer said that the undergraduate student enrollment in the school of engineering comprises 40 percent of the university. 

Kayt Ribordy, a mechanical engineering major, said she would like to have a specialized space on campus to solve the space struggles the mechanical engineering department is currently facing.

“If there was a specific building for mechanical engineering classes, we could have classrooms that were more equipped for what we were doing,” Ribordy, a Martel College senior, said.

According to Schaefer, the mechanical engineering department used to be housed in the now-demolished Abercrombie, and since the Mechanical Laboratory was not utilized for mechanical engineering, the department is tight on space.

“Our space needs are holding us back in providing the best Rice education that we can, and supporting the cutting edge research that can help address pressing societal problems,” Schaefer said.

Nakhleh said he believes that the renovation of Maxfield Hall is the right step to providing other departments, like mechanical engineering, other cohesive spaces on campus.

“We need to offer the best environment for our faculty to do the research for our graduate students to do the research, for our undergraduates to do, to have their best educational experience,” Nakhleh said. “We need to renovate space all the time, just to stay up to speed ... so I’m very excited about it.”

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