Science Center Expansion Set to Break Ground

By Dan Schwab / Staff Writer and Christian Rosario / Editor-In-Chief

Raritan Valley Community College will break ground on a 22,000-square-foot expansion to the Christine Todd Whitman Science Center Tuesday, Oct. 21. The school plans to complete construction by January 2016, with a final cost at $9.5 million.

The expansion includes three classrooms, five chemistry labs, one physics lab, one engineering lab and a room that can be used as either a physics lab, engineering lab or a classroom. In addition, the existing student lobby will be expanded and a second lobby will be built.

All chemistry labs in the Science Center are moving to the expanded area, and the current chemistry labs will be renovated for biology, environmental science and geology labs.  John Trojan, RVCC’s Vice-President of Finance, said this is done so that preparation spaces for chemistry labs stay close together.

“You don’t want to have a chemistry lab in the old building and then 150 feet away another lab (in the expansion),” Trojan said. “You want to put the prep areas together.”

According to Trojan, the classrooms are designed for “flexible learning” and “flipped classrooms.” Professors will have tools, such as movable furniture and walls designed to be written on, to create different learning environments.

"In the current science building, our labs are well put together to serve our needs.  But the real thing we are lacking is classroom space,” said Dr. Derek Weber, Professor of Biology. “I use a flipped classroom approach, and I need certain set ups.  The ability to move tables and these kinds of things has been a limitation for us at the present time."

According to Sarah Imbriglio, Chair of the Department of Chemistry, other science and engineering professors use the “flipped classroom” to different extents, incorporating it into some lectures and not others.

Due to lack of space, RVCC has struggled to keep up with the demand for science courses in the 12-year-old Science Center, causing many of the enrollment periods for classes to close early. Students also have had to take their lectures in different buildings from their labs, which wastes time to transition to. Dr. Weber said these problems have been difficult to deal with.

Much of this is due to increased enrollment in engineering and science programs. According to Imbriglio, in the last 5 years engineering enrollment has doubled in size, and  environmental science started with 12 enrolled in 2007, and now has 75.  Trojan said that with the expansion, RVCC can now meet this growing need for science education in the community. “The faculty will be happy to have all of this space. I’m sure they’ll become even more creative.”

The expansion will also support the Nursing program and technical degrees, such as the electrical utility training program, which has been inactive for several years.

The Building Our Future Bond Act, which authorizes $750,000,000 to construct and equip higher education buildings in New Jersey, provided $7.1 million in funding for the construction. The remaining $2.4 million will come from county support. The school has been planning to expand the building, which currently stands at 26,000 square feet, since 2009. The building is constructed by Benjamin R. Harvey Company Incorporated and designed by Fletcher-Thompson, the company that worked on the Ray Bateman Center for Student Life and Leadership.

RVCC has made an effort to make its buildings environmentally friendly, and the expansion will continue this trend. According to Brian O’Rourke, RVCC’s Executive Director of Facilities and Grounds, it is difficult to make science buildings environmentally friendly. This is because by code all labs are required to exhaust all of their air, which requires outside air to replace. This air is then heated, causing the building to use more energy.

However, The U.S. Green Building Council still certified the project “Silver” in their Leed rating system. O'Rourke said that this was done by being enviornmentally friendly where they could, such as using thermal energy from the school's power plant, using a system that controls storm water, turning exhaust fans off at night and using recycled and local construction material.

This article was edited on October 21, 2014. The building is set to open January 2016. We originally wrote the building was set to open January 2015.

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