Fort Lewis College geosciences, physics and engineering professors are champing at the bit to get into new quarters, a $35-million building full of state-of-the-art laboratories, an observatory, smart classrooms, a science-themed library and gathering places for students to discuss research.
The building will increase the space for the college’s three fastest growing disciplines by 300 percent. Almost 43 percent of FLC’s nearly 4,000 students are majoring in science, technology, engineering or mathematics. The disciplines have had 38 percent growth in the number of students in the past five years, with engineering majors increasing 177 percent in that time.
Engineering students will be able to explore their fields like never before, said Ryan Haaland, chairman of the Department of Physics and Engineering.
“We have a fluids lab so students can study water pressure and flow rates,” he said, “and the strength and materials lab will have a crane arm to move heavy materials, with a large hydraulic to bend, stretch and break metal, concrete and other materials so students can see how stress works.”
And they’ll be able to study how the GPE Hall itself functions, said Mark Gutt, the construction manager for FLC Plant Services. The building is designed to be Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold-certified.
“We’ll have ceiling sections and walls exposed in a lab so they can see what they’re going to be designing in the future,” he said, pointing to heating and cooling, domestic water, electricity conduits and information-technology cables.
The smart classrooms mean there will be no place to hide for students who haven’t prepared for class, Haaland said.
“They’re not theater-style,” he said, “but tables with separate technological displays, where we can project from the table to the front of the classroom and say, ‘Look what this table did,’ ‘Here’s what we’ve learned.’”
Haaland extolled on the merits of the observatory, complete with sliding roof to protect the telescope – and with space for two more.
“We have a grant from the Air Force to track space junk,” he said, “and it includes community outreach, so students in K-12 can learn astronomy, which is a great way to get excited about science.”
Looking north from the rooftop, Gary Gianniny, chairman of the Department of Geosciences, sees the view differently.
“I’m looking forward to bringing students up here,” he said, “because the entire geology of Durango is visible from here. In this spectacular setting, 1.6 billion years of Earth history is exposed.”
His department will have labs for stratigraphy, petrology, historical and structural geology, paleontology, mineralogy, sedimentology and seismology.
“We’re going to have a petrographic microscope, scanning electron microscope, groundwater models and our extensive rock and fossil collections will be stored right here, which will help with efficiency,” Gianniny said.
Having everything – labs, materials, conference rooms and professors’ offices – in one place will make things easier, he said.
The hallways of the geosciences wing’s main floor will sport three large slabs of Brazilian rock formed in a magma chamber 10-20 kilometers below the surface of the Earth that show how minerals interlace. A two-story rock timeline of local geology will grace the main entryway, tilted to the south to reflect area fault lines, Gianniny said.
A wood ceiling drilled with holes at the top of the three-story entryway will present constellations that were important to Native Americans who call the Southwest home, Haaland said.
“We’re really connected to our mission and this place,” he said.
The GPE Hall was to be completed in time for the Fall 2016 semester, but will be delayed until at least mid-semester to save $4 million on construction costs. The college will use $2 million of that for more technology, with ideas such as a robotic arm and water-jet cutter on the wishlist. The other $2 million will go to upgrade other campus labs after the Legislature’s Joint Budget Committee gave the college permission to spend the money outside the GPE Hall footprint.