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Inside the Glass: A look into UWF's new Laboratory Science Annex

Through its 56-year history as a university, the University of West Florida has endorsed an influx of new students, new programs and the new construction of buildings to support them. This Fall, the university boasted its newest expansion at the grand opening of the Hal Marcus College of Science and Engineering’s Laboratory Sciences Annex. The labs created additional space for the growing number of STEM students and expanded teaching facilities for the thriving biology and chemistry programs.

If you have strolled through campus in the last year and a half, you have probably heard the buzzing of construction equipment, witnessed the sea of white construction hard hats or encountered a blocked road, sidewalk or parking lot. Sitework construction began in mid- November 2017 with the chain- link barriers and preparation of the site, but the project officially broke ground on Jan. 5, 2018. The $27 million project was funded by the Florida State Legislature and managed by Greenhut Construction Company, Inc. of Pensacola. The unique and integrated design of the building was modeled by local architecture firm, Caldwell Associates, alongside Perkins&Will, a global firm that specializes in higher education science and technology.

The design of the building not only houses 12 new teaching labs and Business Climate 59 offices for faculty and staff, but it also incorporates an unfinished “shell” for future expansion. The unfinished shell leaves room for the future development of 12 additional research labs. Adjacent and unattached to building 58A, the new annex, building 58C, connects to the preexisting science building 58B via a raised glass “skybridge.” The bridge connects the buildings on the backside of the structure, creating a stimulating visual with the older brick structure and the modern glass architecture.

Inside the glass, the facility features emerging technologies that are instrumental to new research methods for the biology and chemistry departments. Features like an enclosed and ventilated biosafety cabinet, ensure that students can safely work with materials contaminated by pathogens. While state-of-the-art technology like MeasureNet stations provide students with high-quality data collection and probes for their general, analytical and instrumental chemistry lab courses.

Dr. Peter Cavnar, chair of the Department of Biology, explained the demand for the new science annex: “The Department of Biology at UWF has been at maximal capacity for the past decade in regard to our teaching labs. The laboratory space we were using were in a building that is greater than 60 years old with outdated facilities and equipment. The new expansion has allowed us to grow into the new space, which now provides dedicated laboratories for our upper-division courses. This new facility will facilitate the growth of enrollment at UWF and biology, which is one of the largest majors on campus.”

The science laboratories not only provide students with research methods that were not previously available in the older buildings, but the labs will also lead to increased enrollment and retention. Both student success and graduation rates pivot on retention. In a recent press release, the university announced that as of the fall 2019 semester, approximately 24 percent of UWF students have declared a major in the Hal Marcus College of Science and Engineering and that all incoming students will have labs in the new building. By designing a space for those students to flourish in their research and studies, retention and graduation rates will increase.

As Dr. Karen Molek, the chair of the Department of Chemistry said, “The space provided in the annex impacts every student at UWF who enrolls in a chemistry or biology lab and is critical to their success at UWF and beyond. The additional space increases the availability of lab courses for students thereby helping students graduate in four years.”

Over the last decade, the university has built and expanded several facilities including the Science and Engineering building in 2010 and the College of Business Education Center in 2012. As programs continue to grow and enrollment numbers increase, the university will grow with them.

The new labs may be a pretty glass building to some passersby on campus, but for those students and faculty inside the science programs, the building is paramount.


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