Augustana lab renovations moving forward
Augustana science students and faculty can expect new labs next September, just in time for the Fall 2017 term.
A 2.2-million-dollar renovation of three science labs in the Classroom building extension and one research lab is slated for summer 2017. “I think it’s going to be great,” said Augustana Science Department Chair Peter Berg, who has been part of the project since the initial application for funding.
“A huge chunk of Augustana students go through these labs,” said Berg. “Roughly one-third of Augustana students will take first-year chemistry and one-third will take first-year biology.”
Following the renovations, the labs will be up to modern standards with brand new equipment. “The project will involve the complete gutting of each of these labs,” said Assistant Dean of Finance and Administration James Smith, who has been very involved in the project. “It will be a big improvement for both the students and science staff.”
The project’s timeline stems from stipulations attached to the funding Augustana is receiving that the project must be done by September 2017. “The project is funded on a 50/50 basis by the province of Alberta and the federal government,” said Smith. “There’s a lot of pressure to get them done on time.”
That’s not to say there’s not concern that the project may experience delays that set back the completion date. “If it is delayed we’d know well in advance and we’d make arrangements,” said Smith. Such arrangements would likely include using temporary trailer labs that the University of Alberta can access.
Neither Berg or Smith think delays are likely. “The good news is right now we’re ahead of schedule,” said Berg. At this point, a contractor has been found and the architect has been fast.
The new upgrades are a significant improvement over the existing facilities. Even simple upgrades such as new fume hoods make a big difference. In terms of energy savings, “replacing the old fume hoods with new ones is the equivalent of taking several homes off the grid,” said Berg.
Decreases in lab equipment prices mean students will likely be getting their hands on more advanced equipment. For example, the department is looking into a Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (MNR) machine, used to identify chemical compounds, which used to cost “way into the six figures” and is now approximately $60,000.
While University of Alberta infrastructure projects are typically administered from North Campus, this project has a local team consisting of two lab technicians, Smith and Berg. The local team has been involved in the design of the labs so they can be tailored for Augustana’s unique needs.
When building on Augustana rather than North Campus, “it’s not just another lab,” said Berg. Adding that the labs must be more flexible. “The design has to be smarter.” So far, the architects have been able to accommodate all the Augustana team’s requests.
“The vision is to design this so it’s more conducive to group work,” said Berg. “Closer to how it really works in modern labs.”
The Augustana Students’ Association (ASA) has been representing students throughout the project. ASA President Ben Curry said he is glad to see the improvements happening and would like to see more done for upper-year students.
“You need to start looking at long term students and upper year students,” said Curry. “Students are going to stay here for more than their first year.”
The choice of the first-year labs in the classroom building also reflects long-term plans for the facility.
“We have other labs but they weren’t chosen because when we do something with that building it will be with the whole building,” said Smith. “So it made sense just to do these ones that are in the extension.”
If plans for a new science building go through, “we have designed the labs so that they will be very good teaching labs,” said Berg. “At the same time, we can very easily convert them into research labs.”