WOU unveils science center

Photo by Aaron Newton // Sophomores Ty Lewis and Chloe Olson tour one of DeVolder Family Science Center’s six labs during the building’s grand opening on the Western Oregon campus Sept 24.

October 1st, 2013
By Aaron Newton
Polk County Itemizer-Observer

MONMOUTH — The largest single gift to Western Oregon University in its 157-year history was fully realized Sept. 24 with the opening of the DeVolder Family Science Center.

When the state OK’d the project in 2011, it set aside $7.2 million for construction with WOU responsible for the remaining $2.5 million.

In October 2011, the university received a $2.3 million boost from 1968 alumnus and WOU Foundation board member Ron DeVolder and his wife Norma, an assistant at the Student Health and Counseling Center.

An anonymous $250,000 gift all but covered the remaining funds for the project.

“We (Ron and I) frequently go fishing together. I was talking to him about our desire to get state funding to build a new science center,” Mark Weiss, WOU president, said. “Being a biology major himself, he said he’d like to make that happen. That’s where the deal was made, on the water.”

The 22,375-square-foot state-of-the-art facility houses the university’s chemistry and pre-professional biology programs, with the other science and math programs still located in the Natural Sciences Building, built in 1969.

Increased enrollment in the Oregon Health & Science University’s nursing program at WOU spurred the need for a new science facility as space became a premium in the 60,000-square-foot Natural Sciences Building.

“It’s really exciting. It’s definitely different than the old building,” Chloe Olson, a sophomore pre-nursing student, said. “I’m excited to learn, there are so many opportunities with the new building.”

When construction began on the DeVolder Family Science Center in June 2012, Portland-based Fortis Construction told Brad Huggins, WOU construction manager, it would take 11 or 12 months — a lofty goal for a facility requiring sophisticated plumbing and HVAC systems.

The firm was slightly off the original mark, with completion coming in just under 15 months.

Special considerations for the plumbing and HVAC systems had to be made with state requirements that all public buildings meet Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) silver certification.

“In a science building that is really hard to do, especially when you’re moving that much air,” Huggins said. “For the most part, the air has to be exchanged out of the lab areas constantly. It can’t be recirculated, like most office buildings.”

With six, 1,200-square-foot laboratories requiring massive amounts of air and water to be moved and cleaned, the HVAC and plumbing systems were by far the most expensive items for the facility.

The new facility was open for classes Monday, meeting Western’s goal.

As he does on the first day of class, Weiss toured the campus and, of course, made a stop at DeVolder.

“On time and under budget, like a true accountant,” Weiss said. “That’s the way we expect to do business.”

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