An in-depth look at USU’s new Life Sciences building


Groundwork is underway for construction of the new Life Sciences building, which is expected to be operational in spring of 2019.

Maura Hagan, Dean of Science at USU, said the building is designed to efficiently meet the needs of students and faculty.

Hagan described the 103,000-square-foot building floor by floor.

The building will have five floors, including a basement, Hagan said. The lower three floors will house teaching labs, with research labs on the upper two floors.

Walking into the building, there will be a partial but “very open” atrium and a cafe. Hagan said the tentative plan for the cafe menu will be “cheese and teas.” The cafe will dish out gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches as well as teas of all kinds. The floor will also contain an auditorium with roughly 300 seats. In addition, there will be a general biology teaching lab, open lounges and study spaces.

The second floor will have additional study spaces and an active-learning classroom, which will accommodate about 100 students at a time. These active-learning classrooms, Hagan said, allow teachers to configure the space in various formats to aid in group exercises and hands-on learning. The second floor will also have additional teaching labs and a computer lab.

Hagan said the science department is working with the Association for Information Systems, or AIS, which is a student-led association that deals with research systems. The AIS is working to configure the computer lab into an interactive videoconferencing (IVC) lab at night for students who take USU classes from remote locations. Courses taught in IVC classrooms cater to students taking the course remotely, as well as students who attend in person. The computer lab is strategically placed so that those collecting data in a research lab can easily transition to a computer lab to analyze their data, Hagan said.

Hagan said there will also be Geographical Information Systems (GIS) labs on the second floor. In these labs, scientists can tie their data to particular geographic locations. The GIS labs will be separated into two parts by a glass partition. This partition can be opened to create one large classroom or closed to make two classrooms.

The third floor will house faculty offices, graduate student workspaces and research labs. The research labs will be designated for faculty and their student assistants, Hagan said.

Faculty will not have individual labs. Rather, the labs will be suites. Hagan said researchers sharing a suite may also share some equipment, as their projects may require similar tools. This layout, Hagan said, will foster collaboration, economize spaces and resources, as well as prevent cross-contamination of specimens.

While there will be some new equipment in these labs such as fume hoods and sinks, Hagan said much of the equipment will be moved from the older science buildings, such as the Biology and Natural Resources building (BNR), into the Life Sciences building.

“We can’t afford everything new,” Hagan said.

The fourth floor will house additional research labs and areas designated to graduate research assistants.

The basement will contain microbiology teaching labs, a genetics lab and another computer lab. Hagan said the landscapers are envisioning the basement to be garden-level so those working in the microbiology lab can enjoy sunlight streaming in.

Labs across campus currently have to squeeze in 30 students at once, although the optimal capacity is 24 students. This makes it difficult for teaching assistants to address the needs of each student, Hagan said.

As the BNR only has two teaching labs, the Life Sciences building will double the number of teaching labs on campus. Hagan believes the features of the Life Sciences building will allow for more robust research than the BNR currently provides.

“In order to give our students 21st-century training, we need a 21st-century facility that we can learn in, and similarly for our faculty,” Hagan said.

Bonnie Waring, an assistant professor in the biology department, said she is impressed with the architects of the building and how closely they are working with the faculty.

“I work in the BNR. It’s a great building, but this one will really be customized to the sort of modern research that we do now,” Waring said. She said the teaching labs are designed for easy transition between lecture and lab.

Waring said she thinks students will benefit from the “state-of-the-art” teaching labs and will have “the best possible experience” when taking lab-based courses. Waring also said since USU has one of the highest rates of undergraduate research participation in the nation, these undergraduate researchers will greatly benefit from the new labs.

Although the facility will be called the “Life Sciences building,” Hagan said she thinks it will be “exciting” for all majors.

“Everyone has to take a science class of some kind in order to complete their degree, so we serve a lot of students,” Hagan said. “I’m thinking that having classes in the new, beautifully equipped building will make our classes even more popular.”

Hagan expects the auditorium as well as the active-learning classroom will be open for other colleges and departments to use, though she hopes the science department will have priority in room assignment.

Joseph Day, the 2016-17 science senator, said he is excited about the building’s formal study rooms. He said these should be available for use by any major and will operate similarly to the library and business building’s study rooms.

Day also invited students to view the building plans in the science department lounge, located in Room 245 of the Eccles Science Learning Center (ESLC).

The new facility will be large, but it won’t be able to hold all science department faculty. Hagan said the science department has had to make tough decisions concerning which faculty will move out of the BNR and into the Life Sciences building.

Hagan said Alan Savitzky, the biology department head, primarily made these decisions. Since Savitzky is a biologist and she is a physicist, he knows better about which researchers will work well together and which research projects will be symbiotic, she said.

Hagan said the faculty have been “collegial” in these decisions. Faculty have held a series of “lab workshops” to discuss these decisions and talk about the design of the labs, as well as the needed equipment.

“I’m hoping that there won’t be any hard feelings for those who don’t get to move,” Hagan said.

However, Hagan thinks all science faculty should have the opportunity to work in “state-of-the-art” facilities such as the Life Sciences building. For this reason, she hopes the university will approve renovation of the BNR.

Originally, the College of Science approached the university with a proposal that combined the BNR renovation and the Life Sciences building construction, Hagan said.

Because of the cost, President Albrecht suggested they split the projects and focus first on the Life Sciences building, so faculty could move into the new building in preparation for BNR renovation at a later date. Hagan said the BNR renovation proposal was denied this year, but she is hopeful that the legislature will reconsider once the Life Sciences building is complete.

The BNR renovation would be both interior and exterior in order to bring the building up to code.

“We would really do the kind of work that’s sort of behind the walls,” Hagan said. “It is really important for that building to last another 50 years because if we’re going to invest in a remodel, we want to do something that’s going to last for a really long time.”

As for the current construction, Hagan said the utility work will halt before May 6 for graduation, so graduates can use the walkway for the traditional promenade and will not have to walk through the University Inn maintenance lot.

“We’re going to be good citizens and make sure of that. The construction company has just been a pleasure to work with,” Hagan said.

Although ground has already been broken at the site in order to prepare waterlines, a ceremonial groundbreaking will take place on April 25 at 1 p.m. Several dignitaries will speak at the ceremony, including Utah Senator Lyle Hillyard and USU President Noelle Cockett. Hagan said up-to-date renderings of the project will be available to view and there will be Aggie Ice Cream. Hagan is expecting many members of the faculty and several students to “break ground.”

“We’ll have waves of people putting the shovel into the dirt just for the fun of it!” Hagan said.

Hagan encouraged anyone who is interested in the new building to attend the groundbreaking ceremony. Live video coverage of the construction is available to view on USU’s website.


Photo by Matt Halton

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