The Biology building is in the beginning stages of its major renovation. The nearly 50 year-old building is going to be expanded and modernized to create an environment that fits the needs of one of the largest programs on campus.
The immediate needs for a renovation were apparent: the roof leaks, the wiring and electrical systems are obsolete, and the building was not constructed for biology to begin with. The building was originally built as the home of the Department of Chemistry and the Department of Nursing. With Nursing in their own building and Chemistry mostly in the TLC, the biology majors were left with a shell of a building not conductive with what they were teaching. “It was always a challenge teaching biology surrounded by superstructure built for Chemistry,” Said department head Dr. Chris Tabit. The renovations will be broken down into two phases and department officials plan for the $20 million project to be finished by summer 2018.
Anybody that has been to the biology building knows that it is one of the most collaborative departments on campus. The front steps and mail lobby of the building are always littered with students studying and working together on their assignments. The new renovations will feature technology enhanced study rooms, very similar to the rooms in Ingram Library for the students to study more effectively. These study rooms will be equipped with Wi-Fi and power ports to increase convenience for the students. The theme of collaboration runs deep through the department, not just in academic studies.
Traditionally, major professors in a biology department have their own research spaces to do their work privately. This keeps that professor isolated in his workspace but does not embrace the collaborative nature of the department. According to Tabit, the faculty within the department has given up their private space to create four new collaborative work labs specifically designed for specialized research. The four labs will enable students and faculty to develop their research in micro, molecular, aquatic or terrestrial biology. In addition to the shared lab space, there will be two new 24 seat classrooms, next to two more 60 seat classrooms. A third floor will be added underground, which will host a 117 seat TEAL (Technology Enhanced Advanced Learning) classroom. This room will feature interactive computers that will promote more collaboration and joint learning. Education will be entirely focused on the student. The interactive computers will have the ability to link up and project one image onto all the computer screens in the room. “This comes in handy especially when we are doing something small, like if I do a dissection,” said Tabit. “I can project what I see on the microscope to all of the computer monitors so the students have a better opportunity to absorb what they see, rather than straining their eyes to see a wall projection.”
Controversy surrounded the decision to make the changes to the building. It was apparent the facility needed to be modernized to accommodate the students, but how they were going to do that was yet to be determined. The department, along with numerous construction companies, determined that it would be more beneficial to gut the current building and renovate from the inside out, rather than rebuild from the ground-up. That is because quite simply, they don’t build them like they used to. The aged building is built with “good bones” as Dr. Tabit put it. It is a very structurally sound building and students and staff can enjoy the amenities of a new facility while still appreciating the historical nature of the half-century-old building.
The renovation is still in its infancy, but the gears are turning on the project. Soon, we will have a new face of one of the universities largest departments.