Barnes Hall is one step closer to looking like a construction site.
The college recently announced it will break ground on the construction of the new science center and renovation of Barnes Hall on May 18, a date that sits at the front end of commencement weekend.
President Thomas Minar said that day was picked because doing anything earlier in the school year would be purely ceremonial. There would be no dirt to move. No drama of construction.
“We chose a time this late in the school year so that the groundbreaking would be a real groundbreaking,” he said.
There are two major phases of construction and renovation for the new science center.
In the first phase starting on the day of the groundbreaking, the new addition will be built. The addition is a 21,000 square foot, three-story high building. During this phase all next year, classes will remain in the current Barnes building.
The labs will then be moved into the new addition to begin phase two. In May 2018, construction will flip flop to renovate the existing Barnes structure. Steve Browder, biology professor and science department representative, said the fall semester that year — when all the classes are pushed into the newer, smaller structure — will be interesting because science professors will have to teach their lecture classes in lab spaces or relocate to other classrooms on campus.
“My focus has been on making sure we maintain our capacity to deliver science education throughout the process,” Minar said. “And I’m absolutely confident that that is preserved.”
The estimated timetable for both structures to be fully operational is late December 2018. The new, larger structure will also house the college’s psychology department upon completion.
Since joining the college in 2015, Minar has taken on former President Jay Moseley’s science center project and has been working closely with science faculty members like Browder. Browder has had the new science center project as half of his work load since 2007.
“It’s a great relief. I must admit, there were times during this 10-year saga when I asked myself, ‘Are we really going to be able to do this? Is this really going to happen?’” he said. “And now the answer is absolutely yes.”
In addition to kicking off construction, the groundbreaking is also a chance for the college to attract more donors as dirt gets moving. To date, the college has raised $8.4 million for the $17 million project.
The science center was originally envisioned by Moseley as a nearly $25 million building. Once Minar arrived, construction plans were scaled back to make fundraising more practical.
“Because the important thing to me was to get it done,” Minar said. “I want a science building, not talk about a science building.”
The new center, which is designed to be an extended hour building, packs in co-learning spaces. These types of spaces are designed to be comfortable areas with white boards for learning and studying — spaces Minar says will transform the college.
“That kind of around-the-corner connection — that’s an irreplaceable learning opportunity. And this is a community that’s about the human touch and learning,” he said. “I think that having a contemporary facility that really encourages that human touch — it’s going to make people have demands on our other facilities.”
Minar, who visited liberal arts colleges as part of his last job at American University in Washington, D.C., said this building will change the feel of the entire campus in the same way the Johnson Center for Fine Arts building did when it was constructed in 2001. That building was designed to invitingly open up to Dame Mall and have an open, contemporary atrium.
“This building takes a 20-year more advanced approach to some of those same things that JCFA did,” he said.
Beyond the practicality of brick and mortar, Minar said the goal of the new building is to teach students from any major to understand what a scientist is and how scientific inquiry works in the modern world.
“We have to remember. It’s a science building. It’s not a building for science students,” Minar said. “It’s for everybody.”
The college released a new rendering of the proposed plan for the science center. President Thomas Minar said all the building renderings will be on display during the groundbreaking event on May 18.
The ground breaking ceremony is at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, May 18 and will take place on Monroe Street behind Barnes.