KST Cover



A Home for Science

A Home for Science
Transforming a patchwork facility into a proud house of science
for the campus and region

Science Center construction photo by Michael MatrosDr. Y has issued the same refrain time and again over the past year: "A great college needs a great science center."

That's exactly what Keene State College is getting.

No longer will science faculty need to construct cunning funnel-and-bucket systems to divert leaks from the roof or stash valuable items that really should be on display – like the Geology Department's collection of rocks and minerals – in the basements of other buildings. Nor will faculty have to share office or lab space, or forego teaching certain experiments because their labs don't have the necessary extractor hoods and other safety precautions. In the words of Tim Allen, professor of geology and environmental science, "Finally we will have a facility we can actually do things in."

The centerpiece of the building, an open-air courtyard, will replicate geological and biological landscapes of New Hampshire.Work began in June to transform the cramped, dilapidated Science Center into a modern facility that will enable faculty members and students to fully practice science. First, the building was gutted and the lecture hall demolished. Then, throughout July, the campus resonated to the sound of 131 piles being driven deep into the ground.

Science Center construction photo by Michael MatrosThe renovation and addition to the Science Center are long overdue, said Gordon Leversee, dean of sciences. In the 35 years since the Science Center was built, the number of students at Keene State has tripled, with more than ever enrolled in the sciences. New majors have been added in environmental studies, computer science, and science education, with new courses and research capacity in molecular biology, computer science, and other areas. More than 50 faculty members shared tight quarters and teaching space. It's clear, Leversee explained, that the growth in science at Keene State has outpaced the size and usefulness of the existing building.

No longer will science faculty need to construct cunning funnel-and-bucket systems to divert leaks from the roof or stash valuable items that really should be on display.Sally Jean, assistant professor of chemistry and science education, agreed. Jean heads up Project Inspire, a National Science Foundation-funded project to increase the number of science and math teachers in New Hampshire. In the old building, about $150,000 of materials used by students to help develop and teach science lessons were stored in a ten-foot-tall pile at the back of a lab. Other kits were stashed in closets all around the building.

Science Center construction photo by Peter Finger

"Hunting through labs and closets to find the right materials kit was a real pain for students," said Jean. Not for much longer, though. The new Science Center will have virtually acres of space for storage, teaching, and workshops. In the new design, Jean explained, science education will share a lab for classroom work with the biology department. Adjacent to the lab will be a storage area for science education curriculum materials. Next to the storage room will be a conference room to be used for workshops, meetings, and other gatherings. Other departments report similar outcomes from the design process.

Learning Science by Doing (and Seeing) It
When a committee of science faculty members sat down two years ago to talk about redesigning the Science Center, explained Leversee, a central theme was "learning science by doing it."

Teaching science has come a long way in 35 years. Lecture halls, packed with hundreds of students, are a thing of the past. The best science teaching methods today, said Leversee, emphasize hands-on learning and small class sizes. These methods guided the design of the new facility.

Working with architects, the committee designed a home for the sciences that would provide hands-on learning opportunities and also increase the visibility of science at Keene State. The big first-floor lecture theatre has gone, to be replaced by classrooms and a small lecture hall. Upstairs, each department will have its own dedicated space, including student-project labs, meeting rooms, faculty offices, and storage areas. Equipment labs will house the National Science Foundation-funded X-ray fluorescence spectrometer, real-time PCR system and differential display system, and stable isotope ratio spectrometer.

Many of these offices and classrooms will be housed in the new south wing. The south side of the building will feature long spans of glass, so that pedestrians along Appian Way can see faculty members and students at work. The center's main entrance, in a lobby fitted with display cases and artwork, will be located at the southeast corner of the building.

The centerpiece of the building, an open-air courtyard, will replicate geological and biological landscapes of New Hampshire. Visitors will be able to walk through four ecological zones common to the region: second-growth forest, shrubs and bushes, hedgerows, and a meadow complete with a stone wall. Five boulders, the largest weighing over 50 tons, have already been placed in the courtyard space, where they will serve as specimens of local rock types. A seismic device – attached to one of the 80-foot-long piles driven into the earth – will record underworld creaks and groans and relay these to a computer monitor in the new lobby. A groundwater well will let students track the area's water level.

At the official groundbreaking ceremony in June, Dr. Y, himself a former professor of physics, said "Our Science Center will be a place that will support the dramatically new ways that science is demonstrated, learned, and practiced. It will be a place for doing science and for sharing the process of scientific inquiry."

For the people who will teach and study in the new building, fall 2004, when the Science Center reopens, can't come quickly enough.

    Recycling Science Center photo by Dave Orsman

Everything must go
(including the lab sinks)

In Le Celba, Honduras, unwanted fixtures from Keene State's gutted Science Center are being installed in schools and hospitals. Thanks to efforts by the College's Purchasing Office to recycle surplus equipment and furniture, more than nine tons of sinks, doors, toilets, tables, and chairs have been sent to the Central American city to be distributed to surrounding villages. An additional six tons of lab tables, shelves, and cabinetry were salvaged for resale in New Hampshire and Vermont. The exercise saved Keene State about $7,000 in disposal costs and in fact earned the College revenue from the fixtures that were sold.

The recycling story began in April, when the interior of the Science Center was being prepared for the renovation and construction project. As the mountain of unwanted equipment grew, so did the projected cost of disposing of it. Although Keene State has successful recycling and surplus programs, the College didn't have the resources to manage the volume of material coming out of the Science Center, explained Jim Draper, director of purchasing. Rather than spend money to move the mountain to a landfill, purchasing office staff instead opted to put the surplus equipment out to bid. The salvage contract was awarded to the Institution Recycling Network (IRN) of Concord, N.H. "This project is part of Keene State's efforts to try and recover materials of value and to stay away from the landfill option," said Draper. More than 260 items, from door handles to lab tables, were recovered for recycling or resale.

Draper called the project a success on several levels. "We were able to help the people and the villages around Le Celba through an organization called Caring Commodities, we diverted over 15 tons from landfill disposal, and the College saved thousand of dollars," he said. "There's no doubt that we'll try to incorporate recycling into as many campus construction projects as possible. It just makes sense."

Dave Orsman is the news coordinator in the College Relations Office.