Grass Roofs and Solar Panels Will Top New Science Center

A new banner shows the future site of the Center for Science and Innovation.  Melissa Stihl/Foghorn
A new banner shows the future site of the Center for Science and Innovation. Melissa Stihl/Foghorn

The Harney Science Center is home to the departments of biology, chemistry, computer science, exercise and sport science, environmental science, mathematics, physics and astronomy. Though these fields require innovation and ingenuity in their practice, the building which houses them at USF is far from cutting edge.

Constructed in 1966, Harney Science Center has not been significantly updated in over 40 years. The laboratories are outdated, according to students and faculty, which impedes students’ learning and research. There is also a serious shortage of student space; classmates currently can be found sitting on the floor in hallways to review notes between classes.

As an answer to these concerns, a new science center is in the works. NBBJ Architecture Firm has drafted extensive blueprints, and the USF Department of Advancement has been hard at work raising funds to construct what will be called the Center for Science and Innovation (CSI). Construction of the center may begin as soon as May of 2011.

The CSI will be an entirely new structure that will attach to the current Harney Science Center. It will include new, state-of-the-art laboratories that emphasize interaction between the different scientific disciplines. Study spaces, from small atria to little nooks with comfortable couches, will be built in throughout. The center will also reshape Harney Plaza, literally putting some of the plaza underground.

Though some of the grassy lawn in front of Harney will be covered up by the CSI, more grass will be planted on the roof of part of the first floor. Students will literally be able to lie on the green roof of a science lab. Native foliage will also be planted around the plaza.

Dean Jennifer Turpin of the College of Arts and Sciences, said the new center is necessary for student success. “Harney Science Center has become outdated, so the building limits our ability to teach science in innovative, effective ways,” she said. “[Students] will have state-of-the-art facilities and a first-rate experience when the new building comes online.”

Mike London, Assistant Vice President of Facilities Management, agreed that the current facilities are outdated and unusable. “Technology and science and teaching approaches have made significant advances and changes since those existing facilities were last addressed.  To bring the facilities into a modernized condition, this project plays a very important role.”

Labs are among the most crucial spaces in need of updating. Kendra Liljenquist, a senior exercise and sports science major, said when she got to USF, her impression of the science center was “dismal.” She said, “The labs really need to be seriously updated.”

Physics professor Brandon Brown is accustomed to hearing such student comments. “I hear it all the time,” he said. “I teach freshmen physics, and they tell me their high schools’ labs were better than ours.”

Aside from teaching, Brown is working to advance the progress of the center by raising awareness and, hopefully, funds. So far he said the University has raised about half of the estimated $50 million that the CSI will cost.

According to Brown, the donors have been a mixture of alumni, members of the board of trustees, and charitable foundations such as the Koret Foundation and the Fletcher Jones Foundation. Brown said the fundraising was going better than expected in a down economy, noting that over 1,500 alumni have already donated.

Brown is also concerned with making the center as useful to students as possible. He blogs about the CSI’s progress and seeks student feedback via the blog and other research methods. Part of this research has included visiting 13 different universities around the country. Often, he said, what faculty liked about the building was different than what students liked. “Administrators would show me a big, airy atrium that they were so proud of, but students would hate it,” Brown said. For that reason, he said, “We want lots of student input here.”

The new center will not just be beneficial to students majoring in the sciences; Dean Turpin reminds that all students are required to take science classes, and will take advantage of the new facilities.

But also, the building will remake the look of the entire campus. She said, “Our goal is not to just remake the science building, but to remake the center of campus, with a beautiful ‘living room’ for all students.”

London estimates the construction of the CSI may begin in 2011, depending on when sufficient funds are raised and when city permits are issued. City inspectors will also evaluate the environmental impact of the building, which is projected to be low. “The building is attempting to reach the LEED gold standard,” he said. The plans to make the science center as low-impact as possible include solar power, a green roof, passive ventilation, and controls to minimize energy consumption. Rainwater will be gathered to irrigate the plants and even flush the toilets. The center itself will be a lesson in environmental science.

To Dean Turpin, the CSI is about more than just new labs, classrooms and study spaces. It’s a way of enacting USF’s very mission. “It’s going to make USF a higher impact institution as we educate leaders who will create a more humane and just world,” she said. “The sciences are critical to that effort, particularly in the realms of human health, digital technology, and the environment. The CSI will take USF to a whole new level of academic excellence and impact on society.”

10 thoughts on “Grass Roofs and Solar Panels Will Top New Science Center

  1. Thanks for taking the time to share this with us. I was looking around at some of your other posts after I found your blog through one of my students blogs. Keep up the good work and thanks for taking part in the university blog system.

    Building a House

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