Ecology research center expands

The University plans to spend $5.5 million on the 22,300-square-foot expansion.

Jeannine Aquino

During summer 2005, approximately 120 researchers from all over the country shared a University building designed to handle the needs of 10 researchers. Soon they won’t feel so crowded.

The University selected architectural firm Rafferty Rafferty Tollefson to design a $5.5 million expansion of facilities at the University’s Cedar Creek Natural History Area, a 9-square-mile, world-renowned ecological research site.

The St. Paul firm, which specializes in educational, civic and religious structures, has designed such buildings as the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum’s visitor center in Chanhassen and a 63,000-square-foot science building at the University’s Morris campus.

The University said the Cedar Creek project will eventually add 22,300 square feet of research, education, outreach and housing space to the site. The project will begin with a 6,500-square-foot science and outreach center, said David Tilman, director at Cedar Creek. The new building will have more laboratories and office space, larger auditoriums and meeting rooms, a library and an exhibit room.

“Try as we might, there was no way the existing building was adequate for our needs,” Tilman said.

Established in 1940, the Cedar Creek area is known as the birthplace of modern ecosystem ecology. It is 35 miles north of the Twin Cities.

As one of the few spots where three of North America’s major ecosystems (the northern conifer forest, the eastern deciduous forest and the western tallgrass prairie) overlap, the Cedar Creek area continues to attract ecologists and produce research on the leading front of ecology. One such experiment, conducted by Peter Reich, professor in forest resources, examines how humans inadvertently affect biodiversity, Tilman said.

Ray Dybzinski, a graduate student in ecology who has worked at Cedar Creek for the past three summers, said he is excited about the upcoming expansion.

“I’ve been to other sites and they don’t have as much research coming out of it, but their facilities are much nicer,” Dybzinski said. “This new building will get the facilities in line with Cedar Creek scientific prestige.”

Tilman said the lack of space for modern chemical analysis of samples, tight housing accommodations and a new wave of faculty hiring in the ecology department are a few reasons the expansion is needed.

“It is critically important if we add new faculty to be able to offer adequate space for them, their students and their employees,” Tilman said.

Huber Warner, associate dean for research at the College of Biological Sciences, said, “The expansion is essential for the facility to reach its full potential and to provide space and opportunity for all the people who’d like to use it.”