University IOL signs lease with Madbury Commons

By Ken Johnson
On February 25, 2014

The University of New Hampshire InterOperability Laboratory (IOL) has signed a 20-year lease to relocate to the new $30 million Madbury Commons building being built in downtown Durham. 

The IOL offers third-party neutral testing services for data communications, networking and storage industries. IOL employs students from around the state, allowing them to get hands-on experience with companies around the world, such as Apple and Intel. Students can work with the companies one-on-one to test equipment, which helps them to gain employment with the companies, Erika Johnson, IOL director, said. 

"We are a bridge, or gapping that bridge, in between academia and industry," Johnson said.

Students who are working in the IOL get experience they can't get in a normal internship doing little tasks, Radim Bartos, associate professor and chair of the Department of Computer Science, said.

The IOL is currently located one-and-a-half miles from the main campus in the Goss International Building. The location has parking facilities and two Wildcat Transit routes, the Cottages Connector and the IOL Connector, which take students to the facility. 

Over 120 undergraduate students and 20 graduate students are currently employed by the IOL, Johnson said.

"It would be advantageous to be closer to campus," Johnson said. According to Johnson, being more integrated with the UNH campus will help professors as well. 

The move helps professors who are recruiting new faculty or coming over with prospective students. 

The new location will be more convenient, Suzanne Snow, IOL marketing and communications manager, said. Visitors come from all over the world, and not all of them rent transportation.

"[The move will make] a huge difference for students," Bartos said. Much of the teamwork that happens at the IOL occurs after buses have shut down, making it hard for students to get there. It is especially difficult for freshmen, who are not allowed to have cars on campus. 

The IOL currently works with the Department of Computer Science in the College of Engineering and Physical Sciences (CEPS) and is looking to expand to work with the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering to attract potential students. The lab does hire students from outside CEPS majors as well.

For CEPS open houses, the IOL usually rents buses to bring prospective students and families to see the facility.

"It's currently a logistical nightmare having to rent buses," Johnson said. 

Last year, 150 students and families came to see the lab on CEPS admittance day; with the closer proximity to campus, that number is expected to rise, Snow said.

The IOL will occupy around 25,000 square feet in the ground floor of Madbury Commons, Kenneth Rubin, president of construction company Golden Goose Capital, said. IOL is communicating with developers so the space, which will be roughly the same square footage as the current location, is being designed with the lab's needs in mind. 

Madbury Commons, which is being built by Golden Goose Capital, will be located at 17 Madbury Road and will replace "The Greens." The mixed-use property will have 126 student apartments with 525 tenants and eatery and retail space, Rubin said. The IOL will be the anchor tenant.

"[Madbury Commons] provides a new economic growth engine in downtown Durham," Rubin said.

The IOL receives hundreds of visitors from around the world each year, Johnson said. She said she expects that the visitors will stay and walk around town during their visit. In addition, the lab doesn't shut down during summer and winter breaks so student employees are expected to utilize downtown businesses during breaks as well.

Rubin said he believes UNH has committed to a bus stop outside of Madbury Commons, but Johnson believes that the existing Main Street routes will cover the building. University Transportation Services did not immediately respond to a request to comment. 

There will be eight visitor parking spaces at the new IOL facility and the town of Durham has committed to opening up more parking spaces around the perimeter of town, Johnson said. The town of Durham did not immediately respond to a request to comment. 

UNH Innovation, which handles entrepreneurial technology and commercialization needs, will also be moving into Madbury Commons.

The new IOL location is set to open for the fall semester in 2015, as is Madbury Commons.

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