Jan. 19, 2011
CONTACT: Gordon Ovenshine:
Students laud renovated Vincent Science Center
SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. – Slippery Rock University’s Vincent Science Center reopened Tuesday following a three-year renovation, transforming the delivery of health and science education. Students described the learning center as the best-looking building on campus and said the work shows the University’s commitment to academic quality.
“Personally, I am very happy with the new building,” said Kris Agharaad, a biology and medical technology major from Pittsburgh who was the first student in the building early Tuesday. “It’s much more open and spread out. So far the only qualm I have with it is that it smells kind of like mothballs, but I assume that will wear off.”
The state-of-the art facility houses the departments of nursing, biology, mathematics, physics and psychology. Those departments were temporarily relocated to Patterson Hall during the $14-million renovation.
Workers reconfigured the interior of Vincent and equipped the building with new furniture, technology, advanced laboratories with prep rooms and wireless throughout to allow for real-time data acquisition between labs, equipment and individuals. Vincent has 16 classrooms, 16 labs, two lecture halls and a new planetarium dome, as well as suite-style offices for faculty.
Also new are department-specific student study areas adjacent to faculty offices. The design “enables students to be in the process of studying while working very closely with faculty,” said William Williams, provost. “If they have a problem, faculty are right there so that students can get direct input when they need it. That is an amazing advantage.”
Jordan Mullins, an exercise science major from Mars, Pa., said the new front entrance with glass atrium impressed him. He attended his first class in Vincent, a physics lab, Tuesday morning.
“I think it is by far the best looking building on campus,” Mullins said. “The inside makes you feel as though you are walking into a government building rather than a classroom. What really stands out for me is the main entrance. Walking through those doors for the first time kind of shocked me. I wasn’t expecting to walk into such a greatly designed building.”
Mullins said the renovation signals to students that SRU is committed to academics. “Nice facilities like Vincent Science Center really make me feel as though the University is trying to create an atmosphere of learning that students really want to go to,” he said.
Stacie Nagirnyak, an exercise science major from Cleveland, Ohio, attended “General Biology” Tuesday.
“Students feel more comfortable in a more up-to-date setting,” she said. “I had a class with a classroom full of computers later in the day, and it was awesome. The way the rooms are set up is really nice. It’s better to have a table in front of you than a little desk. It makes writing more comfortable, and you can actually fit your whole notebook on them.”
James Bichler, a mathematics major from Pittsburgh, said he sees the future of higher education in SRU’s smart building design.
“The overall impression I get from the newly improved Vincent Science Center is that it is absolutely astonishing,” he said. “Throughout the SRU campus you see numerous construction projects, and you can’t help but have a tendency to see things as they are, not as they will be. When I toured the new building, it was like a glimpse into the future; it was a preview of the newly remodeled Slippery Rock campus.”
Bichler said Vincent provides important logistical advantages for students. “As a mathematics major, we were often crammed inside a temporary math department in the basement of the Patterson Hall,” he said. “The new building gives us an up-to-date facility to study in. Plus, it is the first time since I started here that the majority of all math classes will be located in the same proximity.”
Dani Smolka, a psychology major from Buffalo, N.Y., said classes in her major were scattered all over campus until spring semester began.
“I can’t tell you how nice it is to have my classes, adviser and professors in one building,” she said. “Nice facilities definitely matter because they are safer, more modern and help students to feel like they have an environment that is new, modern and cared for. I love the faculty offices. It’s so nice to have my professors accessible, and their offices are much larger than they used to be.”
The adapted reuse of the 43-year-old building saved SRU more than $15 million in new construction costs. New construction would have cost at least $30 million, said Herb Carlson, assistant vice president for construction and design and the University’s sustainability officer.
Historically, the renovation or reuse of older buildings has been seen as the second best solution over new construction, he said. But SRU pursued the optimum and most sustainable strategy in renovating Vincent, especially in an era of economic distress, taxpayer advocacy and shrinking state and federal support.
By renovating Vincent, SRU was able to recycle the building’s sturdy shell, and maintain its distinctive circular design while updating the infrastructure. Workers replaced the mechanical and electrical systems and reconfigured the interior.
Each of the departments benefited from the renovation, Williams said. Psychology students will now conduct research in a neurocognition laboratory, while nursing received a media room with Wimba technology. Wimba is a real-time collaboration tool that allows groups to meet online for lectures. Wimba sends voice through the Internet instead of phones lines, enabling students to communicate face-to-face on computers from anywhere in the world.
“This is taking us to a new level of learning,” said Debra Wolf, associate professor of nursing. “The building sets a standard for all academic buildings, and the classrooms are beautiful. We have microphones, people on two-way video cameras and switches for live class discussions. We are blending traditional learning with distance learning.”
The technology supports the teaching of evidence-based practice, where nurses pay attention to the whole global picture surrounding a patient, as opposed to the task-oriented approach of getting specific things done, Wolf said.
“The technology expands and explodes cultural diversity, because we have students in Iowa and Kansas and California taking part in discussions. We are able to expand our students’ knowledge of nursing practices to Wyoming, California and elsewhere. They will gain a different perspective than what we see in the eastern United States,” she said.
Williams said architects designed the function of the building around the requests of faculty, who sought renovations that would improve student success. “The way it was done is we interviewed every person in the sciences who was going to have a space in that building to find out what he or she needed and how it should look,” he said. Students say the new environment enhances their learning. “I truly enjoy listening to my classmates’ presentations via Wimba,” said Loretta Britton, a student in the Web-based nursing program from Girard. “We talk via the discussion boards, but hearing their voices while reviewing their PowerPoint enhances their work. Learning and utilizing new technology in the classroom helps me to build confidence in myself to further expand my learning capabilities in the workforce.”
Williams noted one of the former weaknesses, the auditorium-style classrooms, has been eliminated. Workers flattened out the auditoriums to create lecture halls seating 103. The lecture halls are equipped with new projectors, document cameras and symposiums, a digital-information sharing device that uses a pen tethered to the LCD screen.
The provost, who oversees curriculum, instruction and research, said he expects Vincent to bolster interest in the sciences, which offer promising career opportunities.
“When you give a group of people a very nice facility, they take a lot more pride in what they’re doing,” he said. “Engineering and the STEM disciplines – science, technology, engineering and math – are the areas that are most in demand, both nationally and internationally. And they are the areas that are driving innovation, technology and computers – everything that is changing and moving forward at an amazing pace. So we need more people to enter these fields.”
Vincent incorporates ecologically sound practices, in keeping with SRU’s emphasis on green building innovation, said Mary Ann King, director of academic resources for the College of Health, Environment and Science. The new canopy entrance resists wind and water infiltration. The “white roof” reflects solar rays, reducing the required energy for air conditioning and minimizing the effects of global warming.
Inside, the flooring was made with 100 percent natural ingredients. The majority of the $1.4 million of new furniture is Greenguard certified, she said. Greenguard means the furniture controls mold, moisture and indoor pollutants. The old furniture went to Construction Junction, which promotes conservation through the reuse of building materials. “We minimized what went to the landfill,” King said.
Chris McKain, a criminal justice major from Tarentum, said the building definitely has “the wow” factor.
“First impressions mean a lot, and with the outside of the building standing out from the others in the Quad, it makes you interested in what awaits you inside,” he said. “It also lets you know that Slippery Rock University cares about its students.”