UCA eyes new Science Complex

Officials at the University of Central Arkansas mull building a new science complex and release a report to Board of Trustees. (Photo from Report)

Students at the University of Central Arkansas could have a new science building — one without standing water in the basement when it rains — by 2016, if the Board of Trustees decides to move forward.

 

Trustees reviewed new documents Friday that showcase plans for a state-of-the-art science building worth about $70 million. If nothing changes in UCA’s finances, tuition would have to go up 3.3 percent in fiscal 2015 and another 3.8 percent in fiscal 2016.

A nominal tuition increase is proposed in fiscal 2017.

The total impact is expected to be $434 total per student over a four year perior ending fiscal 2017, said Diane Newton, vice president for finance and administration.

“This would probably be the biggest project in the history of the university, but it’s also desperately needed,” Chairman Bobby Reynolds said Friday.

The proposed 93,370-square-foot building would include 70 faculty offices, 12 graduate student offices, 31,200 square feet of teaching labs and prep rooms, 10,200 square feet for specimen storage and 43 faculty-student research spaces. The proposed building would house biology, computer science, physics and astronomy and science education programs like the new UCA STEMteach program. The old Lewis building would remain operational and be “flex” space, said Interim Provost Steve Runge.

The new facility would house Computer Science Department, which is in the Mathematics, Computer Science, Technology Building, according to the report. The idea is to locate laboratory sciences and Computer Sciences together because the two are linked because scientists often use computers in research, according to the report.

The report on the proposed project is an “exercise,” President Tom Courtway said.

It also shows the worst-case scenario for UCA: flat enrollment, no additional state funding, high construction costs and no private donations, said Courtway and Newton.

Trustees did not vote Friday whether to proceed.

Officials said a science building is needed at UCA to better educate students in high-demand areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics — areas where jobs are expected to grow. A new facility will also provide much-needed lab space. Lewis is currently booked all day with 10 minutes to clean up between sessions, said Stephen Addison, interim dean of the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics.

Runge said the environmental science program doesn’t have a dedicated laboratory even though about 100 undergraduates are taking classes.

“Science buildings are important for education,” Addison said. “We need to be able to train our students in state-of-the art facilities with state-of-the-art technologies.”

Addison said Tuesday the old Lewis Science Center is out dated and cramped. He took trustees on a tour of the 1965 building in August and pointed out problems with the facility.

“The current Lewis Science Center cannot support the state-of-the-art science programs that are necessary if UCA is to fulfill its mission and aid the state in increasing its economic competitiveness in the emerging technology-based global economy,” according to a report passed out to trustees Friday.

Problems at Lewis include inefficiency, a failing heating and cooling plant and outmoded classrooms and laboratories.

Addison said the 1960s construction of Lewis is difficult to upgrade and expensive to renovate. With its 1987 addition, Lewis has a total of 119,747 square feet, but all of that space is crowded. For example, in the classroom where the new UTeach program began this fall, boxes are stacked on shelves to the ceiling. In one laboratory, complete with decades-old equipment, the instructor must stand on the sink to get a view of his students.

Officials hope the new science center will mean more students looking to come to UCA.

Every undergraduate student who comes to UCA must take two science courses, which are held in Lewis. This past fall, 2,157 full-time freshmen enrolled at UCA.

“(The science complex) will affect every student who comes to UCA as an undergraduate,” Addison said.

 

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