Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts

Science rising

The Wheaton College Board of Trustees has voted to move forward with construction of the new science center project, despite the difficult economic forces buffeting the nation’s colleges and universities.

The 99,000-square-foot project, which includes the construction of a new three-story building and the renovation of the first floor of the existing science building, will expand and improve facilities for scientific and interdisciplinary scholarship as well as further the college’s “Connections” curriculum.

In addition, the project has been designed to enhance the college’s efforts in promoting sustainability and environmental conservation, from the installation of energy-efficient systems and a “green” roof to architectural features that will control water runoff on the site. “This project makes a bold statement about Wheaton’s commitment to the sciences and to high-quality liberal arts education for all students,” said President Ronald Crutcher.

“This investment reflects our belief that scientific literacy and research are critical components of a 21st-century liberal arts education.

“Our new science center builds on what makes Wheaton distinctive. The design for the project encourages active learning and collaboration, and it will allow our students and faculty to fully develop the ‘Connections’ curriculum, which strengthens students’ capacity to engage the perspectives of multiple disciplines.”

The cost of the building is approximately $42 million. More than half the funding ($27 million) will come from gifts to the college for the project. Work will begin this spring; the project will be completed in the fall of 2011.

The new building will contain classroom, lab and office space, as well as greatly expanded common spaces for the college. It will serve as the home for biology, chemistry, and cognitive and behavioral neuroscience. Math, physics and computer science will be located in the renovated portion of the existing facility.

Among the laboratories that will be created will be multi-use labs uniquely suited to collaborative, interdisciplinary research among students and faculty, said Tommy Ratliff, associate professor of mathematics and the faculty coordinator for the project.

“When this project is complete, our students are going to have the space they deserve for the outstanding work they do,” he said. In addition, the new building will include classrooms outfitted for transformation into research labs, allowing the science program room to evolve as students’ needs change.

Beyond its goals to provide new facilities for the sciences, the new science center will also provide more community spaces such as study lounges and a café. These features will facilitate collaboration among students and faculty, allowing for formal learning and teaching as well as the informal interactions that build a sense of community.

Designed by Einhorn Yaffe Prescott, the new center will incorporate a host of features that will enable the building to earn LEED certification (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), a nationally recognized benchmark for sustainable buildings established by the U.S. Green Building Council. Q