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The proposal for a new science lab building at Weber State University tied for first among state projects before the Board of Regents on Sept. 14. WSU is awaiting a decision that the Utah State Building Board will make in October.
The current science lab building, built in 1968, has numerous safety hazards, and the new building will provide a safer education to students. Norm Tarbox, vice president for administrative services at WSU, said the plan is to tear down the existing science lab building, along with Buildings 3 and 4, and replace them with a state-of-the-art, 200,000-square-foot building.
“From a campus planning standpoint, it’s a wonderful project,” Tarbox said. “It allows us to get rid of some really lousy space.”
The decision-making process is still in its beginnings, and the next step is to go before the State Building Board. Last year, WSU was ranked fifth on the board’s list. If the board chooses WSU, the proposal will then go before the state legislature for a final decision.
“We will be asking for $60 million of funding from the legislature to make this happen,” Tarbox said.
Among the hazards of the current science lab building is that it’s a top-heavy, concrete building not built for a potential earthquake. Being so close to the Wasatch Fault Line, if a seismic event were to occur, the entire building might collapse. The faculty offices on the north side of the building would be the first to collapse, even if the rest of the building were to survive, according to physics professor John Sohl.
Issues such as plumbing, electrical wiring, water leakage and ventilation are failing in building safety standards. There are also cracks in the walls due to the building settling over time.
Sohl said the laboratories are so full that any one station is used for three different tasks. The equipment is moved around constantly, occasionally causing damage. There are shelves stacked to the ceiling that aren’t attached to the wall, with chemicals that could fall out if there were a seismic event.
If there were a fire in the building, Sohl said, the fire department’s main priority would be to evacuate everyone and let it burn to the ground.
“It’s just too dangerous to spend time trying to rescue the building, because it’s going to collapse, and has nasty stuff in the air,” Sohl said. “Every aspect of this building is a problem.”
There are smoke detectors in the building, but no sprinklers. Mark Halverson, director of campus planning and construction, said there is hazardous material that would have to be evaded in order to install sprinklers, so there is only a means of detecting and evacuating.
According to Halverson, it would be smarter to build a new building than to keep renovating the old one.
“It’s basically the same cost to renovate as it would be to build a new building, so we’re taking the smarter route,” he said.
The existing science lab building will be used until the new one is complete, and it will then be torn down. The new building would provide an opportunity to consolidate the entire College of Science into a single building.
“We’ll be able to solve all of those challenges, plus provide brand-new space for the institution with this new building,” Tarbox said.