Plans for new science building well underway


Dr. Thomas helps a student during the practicum period of the Analytical Data lab. Photo by Debra Born.

Debra Born, Staff Writer

Utica College is preparing to break ground on a new science building near the Gordon Science Center in the summer of 2020.

Dr. Todd Pfannestiel, provost & senior vice president for academic affairs, said plans are in the works for the new building, slated to open in the fall of 2021 as UC celebrates its 75th anniversary. 

The provost said the building is in the “early planning stages” and the college is hashing out the design with architects. It will be located on the green area that runs adjacent to the Gordon Science Center and Romano Hall. It will connect to Romano Hall via a covered walkway to the existing Gordon Science Center. The finished size will be between 20,000 and 25,000 square feet. 

“Students should know that our first priority in planning the building is what is best for the students,” Pfannestiel said. “We want state-of-the-art labs for our students. There will be new offices for some of the faculty but the bulk of this building is about where will these students be studying.”

The building will house labs and new equipment for classes ranging from biology, physics, chemistry, geoscience and health. 

The cost of the building, furniture, lab equipment and technology will total $12 million to $14 million. The financial plans to cover that cost are being finalized.

Science, health, nursing, occupational therapy and physical therapy majors will find a new space in the new science building.

“We are extremely confident that in the coming weeks we will be able to show a full financial plan that shows how we will do this,” Pfannestiel said. “We have a lot of options.”

The provost cited the $700,000 from the recent $2.3 million bequest that was given to the college as a means of providing some of the funding and also mentioned “possible” bond financing. Grant funding will be explored to help cover the science equipment. 

“We will have all the funding in place before we put a shovel in the ground,” Pfannenstiel said.

Some students are concerned that the cost of the building will be reflected in higher tuition fees.

“Students and parents should have no concern that tuition or fees may increase in order to cover any of this construction project,”  Pfannenstiel said. “Absolutely not; whatever option we choose to finance the construction, it will not be through tuition. We’ll have the financing locked in and those shovels will be in the ground this summer. It is very exciting for everyone.” 

Once the groundbreaking occurs, the project will move from there. The provost said the college is “cautiously optimistic” that students will take classes in the new building in the fall of 2021. 

“We are absolutely, 100 percent assured that this is going to be a reality,” Pfannenstiel said. “It has been a lot of hard work to get us to this point.”

The provost said the college will repurpose the vacated spaces in the Gordon Science Center.

Science professors are also looking forward to the coming improvements, including Dr. Alyssa Thomas, associate professor of chemistry.

“I’m really excited to be able to have the new space because it will mean so much for the student population to have that educational opportunity in a new space,” she said.

The professor said updating the analytical lab in particular was important.

“This is kind of where our chemists grow up,” she said. “The new space can also be functional for some of the other labs, but I’m most excited about the coming-of-age lab, we will give it that moderness and some of those safety concerns will be eliminated.”

Issues in the analytical lab range from mobility to fire hazards to a lack of proper equipment.

“The analytical lab is currently a safety hazard and is non-functional,” Thomas said. 

The upgrades are important to Thomas to prepare students for the future. 

“When our students graduate, they are chemists,” she said. “The new lab and building is just going to help us facilitate that goal and make that goal more of a reality.”

Science professors are currently adapting as necessary to labs and equipment that need upgrades. 

“We’re trying our best with the space that’s provided,” Thomas said. “There are a lot of things we have to tweak because the space isn’t great. We want to give them a quality educational experience; we are just having constraints with the space we have because of how outdated it is.”

Abby Bargnesi, a freshman in the biology major, will be taking classes in the new building and expressed excitement about it.

She did not cite many issues with the science labs and equipment, but did note a minor incident with smoke in one of the labs.

“A few weeks ago in the chem lab, the vent started smoking, so we had to move,” she said.

Senior Taylor Lowtan, a biology major, cited the fact that the current science building was built over 50 years ago.

“Because the Gordon Science Center here was built in 1963, there’s a lot of room for updates and renovations to catch up with the updates that have occurred in science,” he said. 

Lowtan said all the labs should be updated.

“The analytical lab benefits from a different layout to even just specializing the labs more and really putting in equipment that makes the most of what the lab is being used for.” 

Lowtan is one of the current UC students who will not be able to experience taking classes in the new building although he said he is “excited” that future students will benefit from the improvements on the campus.

Other students remarked on the need for improvements in the science labs.

Addy Barr, a junior in the neuroscience major said future students will benefit by learning how to use cutting-edge equipment.

Merilda Husic, a junior in the biology major, called some of the labs “unorganized” and in need of “updating.” Although Husic will graduate in 2021, she said she is glad future students can learn in the new facilities. 

“Going from those labs to these newer labs, it’s just a different feel,” she said.

“Comfort” was top priority for the new space for Admir Divjan, a senior in the arts, science, and biology major. One of the features Divjan would like to see in the new building would be more food options. 

“It’s very inconvenient to have to leave campus to get food,” he said.

Some of the science lab issues Divjan cited were outdated and insufficient equipment in the chemistry lab, the need for better seating in the genetics lab and that students have to purchase goggles and lab coats. Divjan also said the department needs a new greenhouse and the botany lab is small.

“The chem lab and genetics lab and Bio 212 had a horrible lab, as well,” he said.

Sophomore Kennedy Guy will be taking classes in the new building and said he is excited about a “bigger working space.”

“When we get together before pre-lab stuff, it will be exciting to actually have space to sit down and work,” she said. 

Guy said that the current labs needing new upgrades could potentially affect students, and the newer labs will make a difference. 

“If you can do more, then you can definitely learn a lot,” she said. 

The new improvements are the result of long years of planning by the college. 

“It’s exciting to think about what this means for the future of UC,” Pfannenstiel said. “It’s a bright future and we’re constantly asking ourselves what more can we do for UC. What’s next?”