Neither snow, nor rain nor winter's frozen soil prevented a groundbreaking at SIUE that was in the works for more than a decade. December 2, 2009, was a day of celebration for many who have waited patiently for the construction of a new Science Building at the University.
The current Science Building, the third structure completed on SIUE’s core campus, opened in September 1966. The building currently houses the departments of biological sciences, chemistry, mathematics and statistics, and physics as well as the environmental sciences program. It was also the engineering programs original home.
Although University administration has attempted to correct several of the building's structural issues though the years, there has been a lack of funding to make much-needed and costly repairs and renovations. Additionally, enrollment growth has put space in the building at a premium. During the past few years, new chemistry and biology laboratory space opened in the Biotechnology Laboratory Incubator facility in University Park in an effort to reduce the number of labs taught on weekends.
Space needs for the University’s science and math programs were assessed in the late 1980s, and the original plans for a new science complex were presented to the Illinois Capital Development Board in 1999. This agency oversees construction and renovation of all state facilities, including public universities and colleges. Needs across the state are prioritized, and funding for construction is approved by the state Legislature. After the new millennium, SIUE’s science building construction and renovation steadily moved closer to the top of the statewide priorities list.
In 2006, the State of Illinois allocated $3 million for planning and design of a new building and renovation of the current facility. In his Report to the University that same year, SIUE Chancellor Vaughn Vandegrift said the construction was an absolute necessity. “The lack of a new science building is the single most important factor limiting the future growth of SIUE. The new Science Laboratory Building will allow us to attract and retain more students and faculty, and ease our current lab space problem.”
At the December groundbreaking, Governor Pat Quinn acknowledged that the need for a new science complex extends beyond the campus. "It's important that we invest in SIUE, especially in science. We're in a tough economy right now, but we've got to be competitive—we've got to have students who are well versed in math and science. If we want economic growth today and in the future, we've got to make sure we invest in education.”
With the current state budget deficit in Illinois estimated at $13 billion, many who had been waiting for construction to begin were happily surprised when the groundbreaking took place. “The mere fact that the state came up with $54 million for the new building is amazing to me,” said Kevin Johnson, director of the environmental sciences program and former associate dean for the College. He has been overseeing the planning of the building on the College’s behalf for the past several years. The state sold bonds to finance construction of the new building, Johnson said. The total price tag for the new building and renovation of the old is set at $78.9 million.
Work is being done in three phases
Hastings & Chivetta Architects Inc., of St. Louis is the lead architect for the project, with Research Facilities Design of San Diego designing the lab space. Both the new and renovated buildings are being constructed to be Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified, which demonstrates a commitment to U.S. government standards for environmental sustainability.
Rich Walker, assistant vice chancellor for administration, said the construction work itself should be let out for bid mid-summer. “We are hoping to award contracts in July,” he said. “Students should see some beginning signs of construction when they return for the fall semester.”
The plans call for the biological sciences, chemistry and environmental sciences programs to move into the new building, with mathematics and statistics and physics departments staying in the existing one. The new building will include
Unlike the current arrangement, each program will have its office space and labs located on the same floors (some labs for the chemistry and biological sciences departments will be located one floor beneath their offices).
Johnson said plans call for the three departments that are relocating to move into the new building after its completion, which is anticipated to be in the Spring of 2012. The departments of physics and mathematics and statistics will stay in the current science building while it is being completely gutted and remodeled.
“It's going to require enormous coordination.” Johnson said. “In particular, the renovation of the two auditoriums in the old building--which each hold 200 and are the largest classroom spaces on campus--need to be completed during summer months or fall class offerings will be severely impacted.”
The renovation will bring many positive benefits for his program, said Abdullatif Hamad, associate professor of physics and chair of that department. “Every physics faculty will have a research lab,” he said. “This will impact the scholarly productivity considerably. We will be able to acquire more equipment and involve more students in our research, since space and scheduling will no longer be issues.”
Hamad believes the reconstruction will aid in recruitment of new faculty and students, allow for larger class enrollments, make scheduling easier, enable department majors to have more interaction with faculty, and even bring about changes in curriculum.
The gained space in the renovated building will allow us to introduce some concentrations in the physics undergraduate program because of more available lab space,” Hamad said. “We will need a lab for astronomy, one for optics and lasers, and a third potentially for radiation source and medical imaging.”
Bob Ringering, an SIUE chemistry alumnus, is a director of production for Sigma-Aldrich, a life science company based in St. Louis. Sigma-Aldrich hires many SIUE graduates. He, too, sees several positives coming from the new science complex. “More lab time for the students will be very beneficial. More hands-on experience and the additional technical skills acquired from using the latest equipment will make for a smoother transition to industry.”
Johnson said the buildings will be furnished with new equipment for teaching and research laboratories, but many of the instruments that are currently on-hand will still need to be used. The science departments have recently acquired more than $1 million in equipment that will be moved into the new and refurbished complex, and some of the older pieces are still of high quality. “Some of our equipment, even though it is 30 years old, is still state-of-the-art,” he said. “An example is our 300 MHz nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometer. However, the computer system that runs the instrument is in dire need of replacement.”
Current construction plans call for the new science space to be open in 2012, with renovations in the current science building being completed over the next two years.