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ISSUE 119 VOL 5 PUBLISHED 10/14/2005

Science Center plans 'on track'

By Pat Shabino
Contributing Writer

Friday, October 14, 2005

Planning for the new Science Center, a project discussed since the mid '90s, appears to be on track for construction to begin in spring 2007.

Presently, a complex, two-part planning program is making progress toward construction. This program includes finalizing the design of the building as well as raising funds for the project.

"The goal is to have all the building specifics, room spacing and other details worked out by the end of the academic year so that our plans can be submitted and processed into documents which the contractor can work from," said David Van Wylen, professor of biology and associate dean for natural sciences and mathematics.

Van Wylen and other science faculty, staff and students, are working with the design-build team composed of Boldt Construction and the architecture firm of Holabird & Root.

After initial feasibility studies, a general proposal for the structure arose in discussion with the build team in 1999. In the plan, the new Science Center will be composed of three distinct components: a four story west end, a central atrium and a three story east end which will be situated near the current site of Old Main Annex.

While the exterior design of the building appears to be relatively certain, plans for the new building’s interior appear quite fluid.

"Each time we meet with the design-build team, we move closer towards the final layout," Van Wylen said. However, a general idea of how the space will be allocated has been decided.

The design-build team is taking into consideration the changing science pedagogy at St. Olaf and across the nation.

"We want students to receive an understanding of how scientific research is practiced," said Anne Walter, professor and department chair of biology, "Collaboration between departments is crucial to scientific research."

Several ongoing initiatives are investigating how the sciences at St. Olaf can become more cross-departmental. In the future, students may expect more integrated introductory science courses. With the success of courses such as Introduction to Neuroscience, interdepartmental team-taught courses may also become more prevalent.

Consistent with this interdisciplinary mission, the new Science Center project will physically locate disciplines according to "natural areas for interdepartmental work," explained Walter.

In the new building, second floor west will house neuroscience and organismic biology, composed of portions of the biology and psychology departments. The third floor east will combine biology and chemistry in the bio-molecular science group.

Abutting the roof terrace and green house, the fourth floor west will hold environmental science and ecology, a mixture of chemistry, biology and environmental science. Upon completion, the new structure will be linked to the Old Music Building by an interior walkway cut into the existing slope.

Related construction will begin this summer when a circular road is laid down. The new road will go around the Northfield side of Old Main and link up with the existing road behind the current Science Center.

The new road will allow the college’s green space to be extended from Buntrock Commons to Old Main. Manitou Cottage and the Art Barn will be moved as soon as proper sites are located. Flaten Hall and Old Main Annex will be deconstructed at the last possible moment before new construction begins.

With fundraising and the finalized design likely to near completion in the fall of 2006, ground breaking on "Science Center Phase One" can be expected in spring 2007. This portion of the project will include the complete construction of the exterior shell of the new Science Center, the completion of the west end and main atrium of the building, construction of a connecting corridor to Old Music Hall and the complete renovation of Old Music Hall and the current Science Library.

Finally, at a later date to be determined after additional funds are secured, "Phase Two," comprised of the east end of the building will be completed. At that point, the remaining science facilities in the old Science Center will be vacated.

While students will not be seeing any construction equipment on campus in the near future, if this project maintains its present course, a new state of the art facility hosting an improved, integrated science program will soon become a fixture of the St. Olaf campus.

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