Hard hats went on.
And dirt was moved.
President Thomas Minar reflected on the college’s past with the sciences while looking at the future at the new science center’s groundbreaking ceremony Thursday.
“We have waited months and years for this day,” he said.
During his presentation, Minar talked about how the groundbreaking mirrors a moment in the college’s history 165 years ago when Franklin College’s second President Silas Bailey proposed to add science classes to the campus in 1852.
Minar said Bailey’s innovative spirit that was present at the college then is even stronger now.
There are two major phases of construction and renovation for the new 51,000-square-foot science center.
In the first phase, which started its clock after 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, which is 30,000 square feet.
In a previous issue of The Franklin, Steve Browder, a retiring biology professor, said fall 2018 — 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. Upon completion, the new, larger structure will also house the college’s psychology department.
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, who called the project a “journey” of ups and down with fundraising at the ceremony, 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 was also a chance for the college to attract more donors as dirt gets moving. As of April, 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.”
The building will also have flexible classrooms and lab spaces that can be repurposed as educational needs change over time. After renovation and construction, the teaching and research lab spaces will total more than 16,000 square feet, nearly double what is currently in Barnes Hall.
Other key elements of the new facility include numerous sustainability features, such as the use of a rain garden to handle storm water drainage, waterless urinals, use of large windows for natural lighting, occupancy sensors for conserving light usage, reuse of a removed tree as furniture in the building and an open space for use as an outdoor classroom and common area, among other items.
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.”
Barnes Hall will begin to look like a construction zone in the coming months this summer when The Hagerman Group’s trailer moves in, the area’s topsoil is removed and stored and the new addition’s foundation is poured behind the existing building.