Groundbreaking Ceremony Held for Phase 2 of New Science Building

Groundbreaking photo

Craig Turner picked up a hard hat and proudly waved it for all to see.

“This is indicative of the future of Eastern Kentucky University,” said the chair of the Board of Regents at Eastern Kentucky University moments before University officials gathered on Thursday, Oct. 23, to break ground on yet another construction project, the second phase of the New Science Building (NSB). “Our expectations are high, and there’s more to come.”

For now, the big news is the addition of a $66.3 million, 158,000-square-foot second phase to adjoin the existing New Science Building and add the Departments of Biological Sciences and Geography and Geology. Construction will begin soon and is expected to be complete by late 2017.

“This is about competitiveness in many ways,” Sixth District Congressman Andy Barr declared to a crowd of approximately 200 in the lobby of the first phase of NSB, which houses the Departments of Chemistry and Physics and Astronomy, cost $64 million to construct and covers 175,000 square feet.

Barr said the completion of the second phase of NSB will make the University even more competitive for faculty, make graduates more competitive in the workplace and help address deficits in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) disciplines throughout the Commonwealth and country. “It is a great step in the right direction.”

Phase 2 will consist of 25 new teaching labs, 31 new research labs, 17 preparation labs, four large classrooms, three conference rooms, 63 faculty and staff offices and more in a space specially designed for collaborative research among faculty and students and for hands-on learning.

Dr. Malcolm Frisbie, professor of biology who has served as faculty shepherd for both phases of NSB, said the building “will impact every single EKU student. It’s hard to overstate the impact it will have on our students and in our section of the world. This is a huge deal, and it will make a huge difference for Eastern Kentucky University and the region.”

Certainly, the impact of Phase 1 was immediate and profound. At its dedication ceremony in late 2012, it was noted that in its first 10 months of operation student achievement was up, absenteeism was down, faculty collaboration and scholarship had increased, and instructor evaluations had improved.

Eric Zabilka, principal with Omni Architects, which designed both NSB phases, noted that when planning began in 2005, the original intent was to build the entire facility in one phase. The intervening economic challenges and long wait made the additional funding from the Commonwealth this year all the much sweeter.

One fact became plain to Zabilka when he and EKU President Michael Benson met last fall, just a few months into his presidency.

“It was very obvious to me that Dr. Benson was the kind of person not to let challenges stop his vision,” Zabilka said. “We started working at a rhythm that I had never seen before, as fast as I’ve ever seen it go.”

At the same time, Zabilka noted, the Department of Biological Sciences “has seen tremendous growth, exciting new programs that didn’t even exist when we planned Phase 1. And there’s been tremendous growth in the GIS program in the Department of Geography and Geology. We now had to accommodate a bigger need than we anticipated before.”

Likewise, the building is designed to be flexible enough “so its uses can evolve as the sciences evolve,” Frisbie said.

State Sen. Jared Carpenter and State Rep. Rita Smart, both proud EKU alumni, also spoke.

Speaking of Benson’s frequent visits with state legislators, Carpenter said EKU’s 12th president “grabbed the bull by the horns. He understands that relationships are important.”

Smart remembers her pride when the Moore (Science) Building opened in 1968, but “that was nothing compared to when I came into Phase 1 of this building. It’s inviting, invigorating and makes you want to think. I’m very excited for the University and proud I could be a small part of it.”

In brief remarks, Benson thanked his predecessor, President Emeritus Doug Whitlock, during whose tenure Phase 1 of NSB opened.

“It’s an exciting day for the University and for the College of Arts and Sciences,” he said, “but there wouldn’t be a Phase 2 if not for Phase 1.”

Published on October 23, 2014