Faculty, government officials and students celebrate the opening of the University’s largest project. Photo by Grace DeSanti.

190,000 square-foot building is the largest construction project in URI’s history

The Fascitelli Center for Advanced Engineering officially opened at 11 a.m. Monday, offering students cutting-edge opportunities in education and research.

The 190,000-square-foot building will house all of the College of Engineering’s departments except ocean engineering, which is located at the Narragansett Bay Campus. The ground floor includes two 72-seat active-learning classrooms and a 60-seat active-learning classroom, as well as several laboratories. The upper floors include interdisciplinary labs focused on research themes such as biomedical technology, robotics, water for the world, smart cities, materials, sensors and instrumentation, clean energy, nanotechnology and cybersecurity. 

The Fascitelli Center hosts a variety of resources such as cybersecurity simulations, nanoparticle analyzers, robotics labs and sensors that can detect anything from explosives to Parkinson’s Disease. The Dean of the College of Engineering Raymond M. Wright believes that these modern technologies can help prepare students for rigorous careers in engineering.

“Today, I am proud to say we have one of the most exciting engineering complexes in the country, one that can compete with the world’s top-tier engineering schools and is on par with the extraordinary teaching and research programs that the URI College of Engineering is already, and increasingly becoming known for,” Wright said.

The Fascitelli Center is the largest construction project in the University of Rhode Island’s history, according to Assistant Director of Communications and Marketing Dave Lavallee. Wright said that the building’s construction was needed to keep up with rising enrollment in the University’s engineering programs. The College of Engineering currently has 1,600 enrolled students, which has increased from 950 a decade ago.

The center’s opening comes after Rhode Islanders approved a $125 million bond to build the center in 2014. Two years later, voters approved a $25.5 million bond to renovate Bliss Hall, URI’s home for engineering since 1928. Bliss Hall’s 15,000 square-foot expansion will be completed in November.

Although the project was funded mostly through tax dollars, it also received millions of dollars through private donations. Donors include: Michael D. Fascitelli ‘78 and his wife Elizabeth; Shimadzu Scientific Instruments; Toray Plastics Inc.; FM Global; Kam Esmail ‘66; and Barry M. Gertz ‘76 and Sandy J. Gertz ‘86. 

The Fascitellis, whom the center is named after, donated $10 million towards the building, more than any other donor. Michael Fascitelli, an alum of the College of Engineering, said that the innovation found in the Fascitelli Center is beyond what he could have imagined when he attended URI.

“It’s really going to be the way of the future,” Michael Fascitelli said. “I think domestically and internationally, this will stand the test of time and really differentiate URI.”

Construction on the project first began in February of 2017, but Wright said that the project had been discussed as early as 2008. 

The glass walls give the building natural light, while a metal truss support system removed the need for interior support columns. These features create an open, welcoming atmosphere for students and faculty alike. The University began holding classes in the Fascitelli Center in September. The building was designed by the architect Ballinger of Philadelphia, and built by Dimeo Construction Co. of Providence. 

Faculty, staff, students and alumni attended the ceremony, as well as elected officials such as U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and State Representative David Cicilline. Also in attendance were University President David Dooley, Toray Plastics (America) Inc. CEO Michael F. Brandmeier, Rhode Island Board of Education Chair Barbara Cottam and Rhode Island Council on Postsecondary Education Chair Timothy DelGiudice. 

Governor Gina Raimondo was also slated to attend the opening, but did not attend. Rhode Island Secretary of Commerce Stefan Pryor spoke in her place. Pryor said that the Fascitelli Center will give students new learning opportunities, faculty new ways to research and the Rhode Island economy a way to expand by instructing future engineers.

“We know how to design things, engineer things and make things in Rhode Island,” Pryor said. “And Governor Raimondo apologizes for not being here in person today, but wanted me to impart to you that she knows that’s not just in our past. That’s our future as well. And that’s what this engineering center represents.”

Although the new building and renovation of Bliss Hall are part of the College of Engineering, students of all disciplines will be able to use the building. Dooley emphasized the interdisciplinary nature of modern engineering, and suggested that different majors can collaborate in the building.

“It doesn’t matter what your major is at URI, you will have an opportunity to be in this building and to learn here and to take advantage of its incredible features,” Dooley said.

Robin Hall, a senior electrical engineering student, explained that the Fascitelli Center sets a new standard for all future engineering facilities to come. He also felt confident about the College of Engineering’s success going forward.

“I feel so lucky to see where our engineering program has been, and now able to see where it is going,” Hall said. “The building represents a new step in engineering excellence on campus, and as a whole represents the commitment that URI and the state of Rhode Island have made to higher education and engineering. I am confident that the Fascitelli Center will act as a beacon to New England and the country, and that URI is where engineers belong.”