The cubicles are made of cheap chipboard. Students wear goloshes at their desks when it rains because sometimes the floor is covered in about three inches of water. A ceiling tile is missing.
On Friday afternoon, Board of Trustee members crowded into what is commonly called “the Dungeon” to get a first-hand glimpse of offices graduate students use at the Lewis Science Building.
Like the rest of the building, the space is small, gritty and a little smelly.
“They don’t need to be using this at all,” Trustee Kay Hinkle said.
For the first time in at least 10 years, board members toured residence halls and UCA facilities as a board to see the best and worst on campus. The tour — part of the Board of Trustee’s retreat Friday — included some remodeled residence halls and classrooms. Trustees looked at renderings for the proposed addition to the Health Physical Education and Recreation Facility building.
The group was boisterous at Bear Hall, a new residence hall and
learning community with polished cement floors, high ceilings and even sky boxes at the top floor. But once they entered Lewis, they stared quietly.
The 1965 building and it’s 1987 addition total 119,747 square feet, but all of that space is crowded. In the classroom where the new UTeach program will begin this fall, boxes are stacked on shelves to the ceiling. In one laboratory, complete with decades-old equipment, the instructor stands on the sink to get a view of his students. In a lecture hall, the entire room smells of mold although Physical Plant Director Larry Lawrence said mold has been tested in Lewis and is at acceptable levels.
Currently, Lewis has six tiered lecture rooms, 22 teaching laboratories, 40 research laboratories, two computer laboratories and 57 offices. Last year, Lewis was home to 351 classes for 6,505 students, but the building is woefully inadequate for teaching science and math, said Stephen Addison, Interim Dean of the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics.
Lewis is among the top five facilities listed as a priority on the Physical Plant’s needs list — a list of minor and major needed fixes to facilities. The fact that Lewis ranks so high is significant considering the need for improvements campus wide. As of May 8, officials estimated the cost to fix deferred and critical maintenance needs at UCA would cost nearly $50 million, according to the list.
Critical needs at Lewis include replacing or re-coating the roof, asbestos abatement and the HVAC system, according to documents provided at the trustee tour. Other needs include new flooring, painting, light fixtures, new main distribution panel, new fume hoods, emergency generator and new plumbing fixtures.
Lewis is a top priority for replacement in the Campus Master Plan, said Diane Newton, vice president of finance and administration. Newton and others are working on a master housing plan that would propose a new science building.
“Tear this building down and build a new one — that’s what they are thinking about doing,” Trustee Robert “Bunny” Adcock said while touring Lewis.
For the first time in years, UCA might have the ability to build a new science building, complete with offices, classrooms, labs and even residential space. The university has not reached the limit on its available debt service, has built a $12 million cash cushion and has access to bonds that would run about 4 percent, officials said during the trustee retreat.
UCA is trying to focus on sciences, technology, engineering and mathematics programs, and Lewis doesn’t fit the image of a school focusing on “STEM,” trustees and officials said.
Some high school laboratories outshine what UCA has, Newton said. The current science facilities don’t attract or keep students, said Steven Runge, interim provost and vice president for academic affairs.
“We have to give students — not only a reason to come [to UCA] — we have to give them a reason to stay,” Runge said.