Itasca station turns 100, needs repairs

Founded in 1909, the Itasca Biological Station and Laboratories have had an impact on thousands of University of Minnesota students and professors, but as the station celebrates its centennial, itâÄôs in need of millions of dollars in repairs and renovations. âÄúThe location and the site are just amazing,âÄù Robert Elde, dean of the College of Biological Sciences , which oversees ItascaâÄôs station, said, âÄúbut the buildings have outlived their useful life by a long shot.âÄù A $25 million plan to âÄúrehabilitate and rebuild the entire campus,âÄù will be part of the UniversityâÄôs 2010 budget proposal, David Biesboer , the Itasca station director and University plant biology professor, said. If funding isnâÄôt found, Biesboer said the station may have to decrease the activities and opportunities it offers. Itasca Biological Station and Laboratories opened in Itasca State Park in 1909 as a forestry station for the University, Biesboer said. Biology classes were introduced in 1936 and âÄúbiologists been a big player ever since,âÄù Biesboer said. Nowadays, the Itasca campus covers 50 acres and contains 60-plus buildings scattered on the eastern shoreline of Lake Itasca. Biesboer said more than 1,200 people, including students taking ornithology and mammalogy classes and graduate students doing research, will spend time at the campus each summer. Sarah Knutie , a former University student who is now doing graduate work at the University of Tulsa , said she first took classes at Itasca in 2004, which sparked her interest in ornithology. âÄúIt was my first glimpse into field research,âÄù Knutie, who initially pursued a computer science degree before switching to biology, said. âÄúI took animal behavior and ornithology and that was actually the reason why I got into field biology, because I enjoyed them so much.âÄù Some of the buildings are âÄúpretty grossâÄù and in need of repair, Knutie said, but she noted that the old buildings added to the âÄúrustic feelâÄù of the station. Biesboer said the current buildings on the Itasca campus have been well-maintained, but many no longer meet modern codes and are deteriorating faster than they can be repaired. If the $25 million in funding is approved, Biesboer envisions a more organized and efficient campus. âÄúI think improving the physical plan will go hand in hand with increasing our reputation, increasing research opportunities at the station for faculty and other researchers around the United States,âÄù he said. The buildings on the campus were built as money became available, Biesboer said, and no long term plan was ever developed for the station. Dean Elde, who previously taught classes at Itasca, said he sees the station as something of great value to students, something that is worth funding and keeping open. âÄúIt has been time and time again the place where our students, over this 100 year period, have had their âÄòahaâÄô moment,âÄù he said. âÄúThat moment where they realize that thereâÄôs something really interesting to study about the environment.âÄù With issues like the environment and sustainability becoming more important to the public, Elde said he sees a new and improved Itasca station as a center for these issues to be worked on. âÄúA lot of it requires understanding how these ecosystems work. What can we do to help restore ecosystems? What can we stop doing thatâÄôs damaging them?âÄù Elde said. âÄúI think Itasca is really the heart of where we at the University will figure a lot of that stuff out.âÄù