The new science building’s plans are well under way, but the project still remains in its early stages.
In the spring, Jeff Arrington, associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, and his fellow colleagues of the leadership team started planning how to mold this project into a reality.
“The sciences at ACU have been a long-term center of excellence for the university,” said Arrington. “Students that come out of those programs have had tremendous opportunities in grad school and professional careers, and with the addition of an engineering program it’s clear that the facility can no longer support the quality of education that the faculty can provide.”
The Foster Science Building was built to be efficient in terms of space used, but now it poses problems with the fast-growing interest in sciences and engineering.
Gregory Straughn, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, said it’ll be a good improvement to the programs.
“I think it’s been a good first step, maybe first several steps,” Straughn said. “We have had extensive conversations with our department chairs and I think the time is right for building at ACU. I think we have maximized our ability to get anything more into Foster.”
Only in its second year on campus, the new engineering department begins the year with 67 new freshmen. The department also has two new faculty members. The chemistry department has a large class as well and continues to grow. Whereas the new nursing and engineering programs represent about 10% of the freshmen class.
The Foster Science building doesn’t provide the social space needed to accommodate these students. It doesn’t provide bathrooms on every floor, some labs and classrooms don’t have vent hoods and the building lacks space for students to participate in undergraduate research.
“One of the things that has changed since that building was built is the focus on not just faculty doing research, but faculty-mentored undergraduate research,” said Arrington. “It’s a huge opportunity. Its one of the special things about ACU sciences. But that building as it stands doesn’t provide space for all of the departments to do faculty-mentored undergrad research on our campus.”
ACU sciences wants to create more opportunities for undergrad research on campus and hopes that the new science building will provide for that need.
The plans so far are to demolish the existing Chambers building and the custodial services building behind it. This will give the builders roughly 25,000 square feet of building space for the anticipated science building. The science building will have multiple floors, depending on the needs of the programs and the ability to raise money.
“Chambers is a historic building. It is one of the earliest on the campus, and it has served multiple purposes over the life of the building itself, and so there is a small sense of loss that thinking about taking down a historic building,” said Arrington. “On the other hand, in terms of the buildings ability to support the work of the faculty and the students and the staff, physically the building is not in good shape. So by putting it there, we have a chance not only to provide this new facility for sciences, but we can also find better working places for the Psychology and English departments.”
The new science building will not only affect those in the Department of Engineering and Physics and other science departments, but also those in the Department of Psychology and the Department of Language and Literature. Once this project is under way the psychology, english, science and engineering departments will be relocated temporarily, but the faculty and staff are confident that the result will be worth it, Arrington said.
Arrington has been in contact with the faculty and chairs of each department throughout the early stages of this process, and he continues to help develop short term and long term plans for the new science building.
“Now we have to figure out what financing is legitimate to plan all of that, what will certain numbers of dollars buy us in terms of facilities, and then you start the hard work of fitting dreams and dollars into a single facility,”Dr. Arrington said.
To fundraise, the advancement group conducted a donor capacity study, which presents a description of the project to a sample donor base and discovers what their interests would be in supporting a project like the new science building. Arrington and his colleagues are still waiting to hear the results of this study and will have a meeting in a few weeks to discuss the outcome.
Other forms of fundraising include discussions with donors in the past, as well as potential donors. However, the new science building has already received support from an anonymous donor.
“We have received a very large cornerstone gift,” said Arrington. “It’s a family that has asked to remain anonymous but have long, deep connections with ACU and have given very generously to get us started on that project.”
They received a generous 10 million dollar gift to help support the new science building. This donation advanced the project further into its developmental stages.
Straughn said, “I’m just thankful that alumni and people that are connected to the university see the need and believe in that need. To have somebody say, ‘I want to be the first one to give a sizable gift,’ speaks to the integrity of support and, really, the care and the wisdom that one person would see in knowing their gift would go a long, long way.”
Both faculty and staff look forward to seeing the plans for the new science building unfold and take shape in the future.
“I’m looking at this as an opportunity to create a new facility that really steps up and supports the kind of learning we want for our students,” said Arrington. “For me that’s the most important part.”