New science center is state's top priority

(Source: Chuck Wight) A birds-eye-view of the southern face of the new Tracy Hall Science Center.
(Source: Charles Wight) An artist’s rendering of the bird’s-eye view of the southern face of the new Tracy Hall Science Center.

Ranking No. 1 on both the Utah State Building Board recommendation list and the State Board of Regents’ state-funded capital development projects, Weber State University’s new science center is a top priority.

Built in 1969, WSU’s current science lab building is no stranger to the limelight. Talks of leveling the unsound structure began several years ago, and it has been on the Board of Regents’ plate since 2011.

Although being highly ranked on both of these lists doesn’t guarantee the building breaking ground this year or next, it means the project will have a better chance of receiving full funding from the Utah Legislature in the upcoming 2014 session.

Generally, projects won’t see the planning money and building money in the same year, and the entire process could take longer than six years.

Pamela Silberman, director of communications for the Utah Board of Regents, said WSU’s need for a new science building was highly ranked on the board’s list because planning funding for the building had already been approved.

“Obviously, it is very difficult to teach state-of-the-art science education in an outdated building,” she said, mentioning that a new science building is important to WSU’s growth as a university. “It’s dangerous and outdated, and so I think those are reasons why it’s been highly prioritized by the Board of Regents.”

Silberman also said the board tries to recognize the high priority of higher-education buildings and the impact they have on students and faculty.

“STEM is a big priority, so science, technology, engineering and math education is a big priority for the Board of Regents, as well as the state as a whole,” Silberman said. “Good facilities are extremely important to attracting and retaining good faculty, as well as providing high-quality education to our students.”

Beating out 29 other capital development projects, with seven of these being buildings for other higher-education institutions, the State Building Board ranked WSU’s science lab building as “this year’s highest need.”

According to Jim Reddoor, the State Building Board manager, several components and a ranking system come into play when the board creates its list of top-priority projects each July.

(Source: Chuck Wight) A birds-eye-view of the eastern face of the new Tracy Hall Science Center.
(Source: Charles Wight) A bird’s-eye view of the eastern face of the new Tracy Hall Science Center.

“There’s five criteria used to determine this, and each board member scores each project,” Reddoor said. He explained that a scoring matrix is used to create the final ranking list based off of all the scores. “Weber State’s project, based on all the scoring criteria we had, came out as the No. 1 Building Board recommendation for the year.”

The State Building Board can only make recommendations to the legislature, but typically, the legislature follows through with the board’s list.

Reddoor said some projects stay on the list for several years, due to how the needs change with funding. The entire board traveled to the science lab in August and received a tour.

“We didn’t receive asbestos poisoning that anyone knows of,” Reddoor joked. “We’re excited to see this need addressed for the state and the students of Weber State. I think it’s an attribute for the true need that’s up there, and once legislature funds it, it will be a great addition to the college and university.”

WSU President Charles Wight spearheaded this project when he was brand-new to the job. He met with legislatures in February earlier this year to plead the science lab’s case for funding and received a $3.5 million budget for surveying and design.

“We have done all the programming and part of the design for the building this year, using part of the $3.5 million,” he said, mentioning that in the past, planning money is a signal of the legislature’s commitment to completing a project in a timely manner.

“There are really four steps to this, and we have only been through two of them,” said Wight, but he is confident WSU will receive the funding this next year. “It’s happening with all deliberate speed, and we just have to make sure that everything falls into place and that we actually get the money this year.”

He also addressed the fact that WSU has a single science building, while other top universities in Utah have dozens of labs and centers for math and science education on their campuses.

“On this campus, a new science laboratory building is the only way that we can push science education forward,” Wight said. “If we are going to participate at all in science education in the future, we must have this building.”

The name of the new science lab building was finalized just within the last two weeks, according to Wight. The science center will be named after Tracy Hall, an inventor, director of research and professor who was a relative to the building’s main donors, Alan Hall and his cousin David, who was Tracy’s son. The Alan E. Hall Foundation and David Hall have pledged a $5 million donation toward the construction of the center.

Wight said the construction plan for the new center is to demolish buildings 3 and 4 and build the new science building, which may take a few years, and then turn the current science building into a temporary parking lot.