After years of intensive planning and design, Clark College’s new 70,000-square-foot STEM building will be opening for students this Fall.
According to a spokesperson from the Clark College Foundation, the $39 million project was proposed over eight years ago and has faced several setbacks, including budget cuts and even an archeological dig. But on Sept. 19 the doors are opening to students for the first time.
One of the first things that you see when entering the facility is the drop tower, a glass shaft extending from the lobby to the third-floor balcony. According to Project Manager Jim Watkins, the tower will be used by physics classes and comes fully equipped with a high-speed camera for a variety of experiments.
But the drop tower isn’t the only educational feature of the building. Watkins explained that the building was designed to function as an educational tool and features many details which designers believe can increase interest in STEM fields. Glass panels in the wall allow students to watch water being transferred between floors, and exposed pipes in the ceiling let onlookers view air ducts, sprinkler systems and disposal systems.
Watkins explained that, while designers had to be especially careful with fulfilling building codes, the exposed systems are completely safe. “These systems have always been right above you,” Watkins said. “The only thing that separates you is a little bit of ceiling tile.”
Watkins said that another main priority for the project was safety. Every floor and staircase is equipped with systems allowing students to call for help in case of emergencies. Additionally, storage areas for equipment and experiments are located between lab rooms, which Watkins said will prevent hazardous materials from being transported through hallways and other public areas of the building.
Watkins said that he is confident these new facilities will give students seeking a career in STEM a strong platform to build from.
Rhonda Morin, the director of Communications and Marketing for the Clark College Foundation, explained that the project is important for more than just students. “It’s a showpiece,” Morin said. “It brings in the community, and makes people interested in STEM.”
Morin explained that, while the main goal of the project has always been to give students an upper hand in their education, large projects like the STEM building are an important part of connecting with the community and finding future donors for the college.
While the majority of the money for the project came from the state, Morin said the foundation contributed $1.86 million for the project, primarily through dedicating parts of the building to donors.
One such dedication is the Roland E. Dietmeier Lab. According to an article in the Clark College alumni magazine “Partners,” anonymous donors gave $265,000 to name the lab after Dietmeier, a chemistry professor who worked at Clark over 50 years ago.
Unfortunately, according to Morin, the STEM building doesn’t house all of the STEM classes on campus; while the biology, chemistry, engineering and technology departments all have a place in the new facility, there are no math classes. Morin said, however, that while there are no current plans to expand, she is hopeful that math can find a place in the building, as the allotted space for the facility left room for future remodeling. “There’s a possibility down the road to expand the building to hold all of STEM.”
President Bob Knight will hold an opening ceremony and ribbon-cutting event for the building on Oct. 3.