Science building renovations nearing completion

by Angela Gartner, Staff Writer

Each year the Saint Vincent College community witnesses new changes on campus, such as renovations of the game room of the Carey Student Center and the Mary Mother of Wisdom Student Chapel, or larger-scale projects like the renovation of the Sis and Herman Dupré Science Complex. The latter project began with a visioning session five years ago between several faculty members, including Brother Norman and Dr. Smetanka, and is now in its final stages of completion

One of the largest construction projects in Saint Vincent history, the project timeline began with the groundbreaking in 2009. While the new south building was open for the start of the 2010-2011 academic years on August 30th, the building is expected to be completed on September 30th, 2010. The Chemistry (East) Building is scheduled to be renovated next, and the Biology (North) Building will begin in December of 2010 and completed for Fall of 2011.

Smetanka, Vice President for Academic Affairs and Academic Dean, reflected on the beginning stages of the project starting with the initial meeting and needs assessment. The science center was built in the late 60s, and early 70s, with the physical brick and concrete construct making changes and updates of the building difficult. More space was critical in order to expand the Boyer School of Natural Sciences, Mathematics, and Computing. Smetanka noted, “One of the themes in the design [is to] literally and metaphorically connect disciplines and nurture interdisciplinary work by removing any physical barriers that [once] artificially separated departments. This design encourages collaborative learning by purposefully designing common spaces to be conducive for interaction.”

The three-story all glass atrium wraps around the face of the south building and will allow students to view the natural world of the sciences in a whole new way. Dr. Koehl, associate professor of biology commented, “Although this is a Boyer School building, all students, faculty, and staff will be encouraged to utilize the building for studying, classes and conferences with the spacious atrium, numerous classroom spaces and lecture hall. The renovated project will also help with recruitment of science majors but overall on campus.”

In addition to the 150-200 seat Atrium, the new science pavilion will feature a 70-100 seat lecture hall, a geothermal heating and cooling system and solar panels on the Atrium roof; outside features will include a plaza and fountain, new pedestrian walkway between the center of campus and the Pavilion, as well as a refurbished parking area between the Library and Pavilion.  With sensitivity to the environment as one of the project’s primary goals, the geothermal heating and cooling concept earned the building a LEED Gold certification; the solar panels will also promote clean energy technology. Inside the new south building will be several labs for organic, advanced and synthetic chemistry; microbiology and biochemistry; anatomy, physiology, cell and molecular biology, as well as cell culture. The building will also house a digital imaging center and planetarium. Smetanka believes the new labs are “very safe and state-of-the-art facilities.”

The natural sciences—biology, chemistry, and physics—will share the labs and resources. Koehl also noted, “The space in the renovated project allows our research students to have dedicated space instead of trying to fit into labs between classes.” The lecture hall will serve as a venue for both classes and other events such as musical recitals. The forum of the atrium which also has wireless internet will allow students to study and learn in a unique setting.

The $39 million cost total includes the renovation of the three existing buildings as well as the new science pavilion; this project received both private and public funding with grants from the Sis and Herman Dupré Foundation, as well as the Richard King Mellon Foundation. The renovation project was also made possible in part by President Norman Hipps O.S.B.

“He really was the spearhead of the project,” said Smetanka.  In addition to the funding and dedication of faculty members, the Dupré’s contribution was more than just monetary: the motivation and spirit behind the project far outweighed the monetary price tag of their $7.6M grant.

Herman Dupré, a 1953 graduate of Saint Vincent College, and his wife, Mary “Sis,” share common spirit and enthusiasm in reaching the highest standards in education. “Their love of education has come together in this building,” said Smetanka. According to a Saint Vincent news release, in 1998, Mr. Dupré was honored by Saint Vincent College with the conferral of an honorary doctor of science degree.

“The renovation project will allow us to do cutting edge science that is more [collaborative], which is how science is done in the “real world,” said Koehl.

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