Columbia College raising $18 million for new science building

Friday, July 10, 2009 | 5:13 p.m. CDT; updated 5:44 p.m. CDT, Friday, July 10, 2009
A typical science lab at Columbia College has become cramped and filled with supplies. The developers at the college are coordinating funds and creating plans for a new science lab to be built on the spare softball field.

COLUMBIA —  Columbia College has begun raising $18 million for a new building that might triple the space of its science department.

Officials cite the rapid growth of the department as one reason for the expansion. The number of lab sections offered by the college nearly doubled from 52 to 103 between 2002 and 2007, said Michael Kateman, executive director of development and alumni relations.

In the same time period, the number of students graduating each year with science degrees more than tripled, from 43 to 156, Kateman said. This is primarily due to the college expanding its science degrees six years ago to include biology, physics, chemistry, environmental studies and forensics.

"We have tremendous day and evening programs that we can't meet the demands for our growing lab programs," said Julie Estabrooks, chairwoman of the science department and assistant professor of biology and science.

The state of the current facilities in Robnett-Spence Center is also an issue, due to lack of quality, size and overall design.

"It's more primitive than most high school laboratories," Estabrooks said.

The structure was built in the 1970s and originally used as an infirmary with one bathroom and limited classrooms "never meant to be anything other than storage," Estabrooks said.

The crowded classrooms also lack proper ventilation and fume hoods, creating safety concerns because of the amount of equipment that must be stored stacked up and where it fits, she said.

Lab coordinator Laura Coe said classrooms "are filled to the masses."

The Science Lab Annex, a trailer located down the street, is also used as classroom space for subjects like anatomy and physics. But Coe said the distance between the two science buildings makes transporting supplies challenging.

"Can you imagine trying to cart a bunch of microscopes back and forth?" she said.

Terry Smith, executive vice president and dean of academic affairs, said he is astounded by what the department has accomplished under these conditions.

Smith hopes the college will be able to keep up with the science department's growth.

"We're looking at the (construction) plans, and we're thinking, 'Man, is this big enough?'" Smith said.

The 40,360-square-foot new science building will be constructed where the softball fields are now, and the fields will move to property that will be purchased near the campus off Range Line Street, Estabrooks said.

With the new space, the department will be able to use more specialized equipment that it could purchase if there was a place to put it, Estabrooks said.

The $18 million fundraising campaign will not only create more labs, add space for student research and update technological capabilities, but will also fund new positions and supplies.

The department also plans to add a bachelor of science in chemistry, create new lab course offerings and increase the number of introductory-level lab sections by 30 percent, Kateman said.

Erika Harrington, a 2009 Columbia College science graduate, expressed her excitement about the future science building.

"Everyone associated with the science department is ecstatic about the new building," she said. "I'm kind of sad I'm not going to get to be in that science building because it's going to be great. I can see it doing great things for the science department."

About $1.1 million has been raised for the new building since fundraising began in January, when the Board of Trustees adopted the campaign, Kateman said. The goal for breaking ground on the new science department is Dec. 31, 2013. The building is expected to take 14 to 16 months to complete.

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