Clark College science/tech building closer to reality

State gives OK to finalize design work; construction expected to start in 2014

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Editor’s note

This story was written by a staff reporter for The Independent, Clark College’s campus newspaper, under a collaboration between The Columbian and Clark College’s journalism program called “Voices from Clark College.” It is also being published Wednesday in The Independent.

State education officials have given Clark College the green light to finalize design work on a $38 million Science, Technology, Engineering and Math building that they hope will be under construction in spring 2014.

School administrators say the building will serve increased demand for STEM training. Plans for the new building, to be located across Fort Vancouver Way from the main campus, feature modern instructional amenities and sustainable design.

Funding for the project from the Washington's capital budget had been delayed two years because of last year's state fiscal crisis, according to Bob Williamson, the college's vice president of administrative services.

"We put the design process on hiatus, as per instructions from the state board," Williamson said in an email. "But now that construction dollars are in the pipeline, we will bring back the STEM planning team later this fall."

Clark College had submitted the STEM building project to the state as a growth project, with the school to receive pre-design and design funding in 2007 and 2009, respectively. Had the project continued on schedule, construction funding would have been available last year.

The building and its STEM programs will respond to growing student interest in technical education, providing students with skills that many employers say are critical to success in today's workplace. Despite an expected decline in enrollment overall and in STEM classes this year, Clark College's attendance remains close to 14,000 students — much higher than when the project was conceived and submitted.

"STEM has certainly been a nationwide focus, to support more STEM graduates," Williamson said. Clearly we made a good case that we needed additional modern space to accommodate growing student interest in the STEM fields."

The 70,000-square-foot building will house 10 classrooms, 11 labs, study areas and faculty offices for two major divisions of Clark College's STEM program. The life sciences and physical science, and engineering departments are currently housed in the Science building and Anna Pechanec Hall, both of which were constructed in the late 1950's. Those programs will move to the new building. The school's math department will remain in Bauer Hall.

The space being vacated by programs moving to the STEM building will be converted to other classroom and administrative uses.

The three-story structure will feature state-of-the-art instructional and lab facilities, as well as exposed architecture intended to serve as a learning tool for students, according to Jim Green, Clark College's Director of Facilities Services.

For instance, engineering students studying heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems or structural design will be able to directly observe those systems at work in the building. Other features will include integrated study and teaching spaces, as well as integrated equipment for performing science experiments such as a drop tower.

In addition to providing updated instructional facilities, the new building will be designed and built in accordance with the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Design standards. The LEED standard provides certification of building projects based on performance criteria in areas such as water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, indoor environmental quality, and sustainable sites.

New buildings such as this are typically Silver LEED certified, Green said. However, the Clark College building at Columbia Tech Center received a higher Gold certification last year, and Green expects the new STEM building to receive the same rating.

"Certainly from the building perspective, we're proud of that," Green said. "That represents sustainability, which is important to the college."

Administrators expect the STEM building to open for classes in fall quarter 2015.