Wilson College to expand science center

September 16, 2007|by DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, PA. - Wilson College is going back to the future for the $25 million renovation and expansion to its science center, incorporating 21st-century technology in a building that will blend in with the 19th-century look of the campus.

The existing Havens Science Center is being gutted, the hallways, labs and classrooms on the second floor cleared away, leaving only the structural supports. The same treatment was under way last week on the first floor.

"The design of the building doesn't meet the current needs of science," said Dana Harriger, an associate professor of biology and head of the college's Science Division. "Technology changes. Pedagogical approaches change."

The lab equipment is more up-to-date than the building, with an electron microscope, spectrometers and other modern technology, Harriger said. One of the things important in a laboratory environment is temperature and humidity control, but the center's system was not working, he said.


However, Wilson recently received a $66,000 grant from the West Penn Power Sustainable Energy Fund, $30,000 of which is to be used for a hot water solar heating system. The rest of the grant money will go toward another high-tech green feature, a dedicated outdoor air system - essentially a sophisticated heat exchange system - for the building's heating and cooling system.

Built in 1967, the 51,500-square-foot Havens Science Center is a bland, boxy piece of institutional architecture from that era, with little charm or flair. The two-story, 25,000-square-foot addition will mimic the Victorian-era stone facades and steeply pitched roofs of other campus buildings.

The chemistry, biology, physics, math, computer sciences, veterinary medical technology and psychology classes and labs will be in the building, Harriger said. Other features include an atrium, auditorium, natural history museum, greenhouse, and office and conference rooms.

The project is being financed with a $29 million bond issue, which includes the cost of construction, along with $3 million for equipment and furnishings and a maintenance fund, said Jeff Zufeld, Wilson's vice president for college advancement.

The college has raised about $14 million so far, including a $10 million gift from class of 1955 alumna Marguerite Lenfest and her husband, Harold F. Lenfest, Zufeld said.

While the center is a construction site, classes must go on, and Harriger said the college wants to keep the impact on courses to a minimum. To that end, the college brought in 14 modular units to accommodate the science classes, a dozen of which are assembled into one building next to the gymnasium.

"It was hot in there," Catherine Santai, an associate professor of chemistry, said of the old center.

Once it opens, the new science and math center should be a state-of-the-art facility and recruiting tool for the college, said Cheryl Sleboda, the college's vice president of finance and administration.

"I think when they looked at 51 percent of the students being in science-based majors, it became a priority," Sleboda said.

"Studies have shown that students are more interested in their major building than their residence halls" when it comes to selecting a college, Sleboda said.

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