Pres. wants to raze eyesore

Mitch Anderson

The Science Classroom Building, long described as a campus blemish by students and instructors alike, could soon be getting more than just a touchup.

The building, a fixture of the East Bank campus since 1962, would be demolished to make way for a new Science Teaching and Student Services Center.

University President Bob Bruininks proposed the project as part of his budget request to the University Board of Regents earlier this month. The board will review the proposal in a meeting today.

The Legislature rejected a similar request for remodeling funds from the University during its last session.

The project is estimated to cost $72.5 million – one-third of which the University would be responsible for paying.

Wayne Gladfelter, a professor of chemistry who has taught in the Science Classroom Building for most of his 19 years at the University, said the project would be a much-needed upgrade to the current facilities.

“Many of the faculty, including myself, feel that the lecture halls themselves aren’t too bad,” he said. “But that being said, the rest of the building is a disaster.”

The facility would include several state-of-the-art science classrooms in addition to other student service offices offering academic advising, career counseling, financial aid and billing – offices which are currently scattered across the Minneapolis campus.

Gladfelter said the current building is in desperate need of renovations to the heating and ventilation systems in addition to being just plain ugly.

“The building just looks like a dump. It’s a sad entry to the East Bank of the University, one of the gateway buildings as they say,” he said. “It’s just a shame that it’s so ugly.”

University officials conservatively estimated the project would be completed by 2012, but talks are currently underway to start sooner in order to save money on inflation.

Michael Perkins, associate vice president of Capital Planning and Project Management, said the new classrooms will feature several technological advancements to provide a more active learning environment for students.

“We’re going to be moving to an interactive classroom as opposed to an auditorium setting,” Perkins said. “All the research that we’ve looked at, which has been substantial, points out that people learn better, faster and retain more when they learn in interactive settings as opposed to sitting and being fed information.”

Currently there are 11,000 students enrolled in chemistry courses alone in any given year, many of which are taught in the Science Classroom Building.

Gladfelter said the University needs to be careful when balancing resources for instructing students with accessibility for large classes.

“With many of these buildings that they’re talking about constructing, there seems to be a relatively small proportion spent on classrooms,” he said. “That’s something we cannot afford to lose.”

Orlyn Miller, director of planning and architecture at the Office of Capital Planning and Project Management, said the University placed a higher priority on the project this year after it failed to get funding last year.

“Because this is a carry-over from the 2006 request that didn’t get funded, my feeling is that (the project) will have high priority and, from the University’s perspective, be promoted pretty heavily from the Legislature,” he said.

Miller added that it didn’t hurt that Bruininks is a strong supporter of the project.

Student opinion varies on the proposed Science Classroom Building makeover.

Mike Stone, a neuropsychology student who has attended classes in the Science Classroom Building, said just because the building is an eyesore doesn’t mean it isn’t still useful.

“I think the technology is too old in terms of projection and sound systems, but otherwise (the building) is adequate,” Stone said. “On the other hand, lecture halls and labs are more necessary than some of the other projects on campus.”

Anthropology junior Tom Taff agreed with Stone’s sentiments.

“It’s a better use of money than a $500 million football stadium,” he said.