Funding requested to revamp science space

Imagine signing up for a biology lab and the only class available ends at midnight. How about a class starting at 6 a.m. on Saturday? That’s the reality for some Portland State students, due to swiftly increasing enrollment in the university’s science programs and a severe need for lab and research space in Science Buildings 1 and 2.

Later this week Lindsay Desrochers, vice president for finance and administration, will ask the Legislature for $9.5 million in XI-G bonds as part of a $41 million plan to remodel and revitalize both Science Buildings, creating the new Science Research and Technology Center.

Timing is critical, as 63,000 square feet of space has just opened up due to the relocation of departments in engineering, which have moved to the newly constructed Northwest Center for Engineering, Science and Technology.

Soon another 40,000 square feet will be available when the Oregon Public Health Laboratories and the Department of Environmental Quality Laboratory resettle in Beaverton.

“The space that’s being vacated is space the sciences needs right now,” said Marvin Kaiser, dean of the college of liberal arts and sciences, attributing this need to growth in enrollment and research. Enrollment has increased roughly 32 percent over the last 7 years. Likewise, research funding has increased from $1.04 million in 1994-95, to $9.25 million in 2004-05. “We need more duplicate labs so we can accommodate students at more reasonable times.”

Built in the 1960s, these buildings still function with many of their original features intact, some of which are today obsolete. Kaiser’s heard from students who say that the science facilities were better when they were in high school.

Of particular concern is the hazardous waste processing facility, now housed in Science Building 1. “The current facility is not adequately sized. It’s a huge liability for this university,” said Robyn Pierce, interim director for facilities and planning. In fact, PSU is the only school in the Oregon University System without a facility meeting federal and state safety standards.

The proposal provides funding for a new hazardous waste facility in an existing structure, the West Heating Plant building. Additionally, this space would house a new kiln for the Art Department, which is now located in Neuberger Hall. This new location would be tailored to the high heat and toxic by-products of the casting process. Built in 1969, Neuberger Hall was intended primarily for classrooms.

If approved, work on this project would begin in July of 2007, and end in the fall of 2009.

In the meantime, the cleared space has been cleaned and is already being used by faculty and students for a number of uses, and they are continuing to do the best they can with the resources they have.

“In the meantime, we can bridge the need with other types of funding,” Pierce said. “But those options are limited.”

A similar request for funding was denied in the 2005 budget.

The outcome will be decided Friday at an emergency board meeting, which is held in between legislative sessions to allow for changes to the existing budget that cannot wait until the next biennium.