GGC breaks ground on new instructional laboratory facility

Georgia Gwinnett College broke ground yet again today – this time for a new instructional laboratory facility that will accommodate the college’s rapidly expanding student body. Featuring seven modern, multi-disciplinary laboratories and an instrumentation core, the sleek facility is designed for optimum function in meeting the young college’s critical need for more laboratory space.

Georgia Gwinnett College broke ground yet again today – this time for a new instructional laboratory facility that will accommodate the college’s rapidly expanding student body. Featuring seven modern, multi-disciplinary laboratories and an instrumentation core, the sleek facility is designed for optimum function in meeting the young college’s critical need for more laboratory space.

About 200 people attended today’s event, which was held on the future site of the $7 million, 24,000-sq. ft. facility. It was funded by the University System of Georgia’s Board of Regents.

“I cannot emphasize strongly enough how critically important this facility is for the college,” said GGC President Daniel J. Kaufman. “Our existing laboratory space is a limiting factor on our enrollment growth and further development as an institution. This year, we hit that limit.”

Without the new facility, Georgia Gwinnett College would have had to cap its enrollment at about 6,000 students. The new laboratories will enable the college to enroll up to 8,500, a number that Kaufman expects to achieve in fall 2011.

“The size of our enrollment and the pace of our growth is really no surprise,” Kaufman said. “The Gwinnett region needed a four-year, public college. Nothing reaffirms this institution more than our enrollment. Our ongoing challenge is to anticipate the growth, and plan for it responsibly.”

The need for the laboratory facility was foreseen in 2006. During his first week as dean for the School of Science and Technology, Thomas Mundie calculated when the college would run out of laboratory capacity. With this knowledge, the college wove new laboratories into its campus facilities plan.

All students must take a minimum number of laboratory science courses. As GGC’s enrollment has grown, so has the demand for such courses. The college currently enrolls about 3,100 freshmen, and an even larger freshman class is expected this fall. However, the number of new students is not the only concern.

“This fall, we will have 1,000 juniors and 700 seniors who will require upper-level laboratory courses,” said Mundie. “As our larger freshman classes advance, these numbers will grow dramatically. These new laboratories are needed to accommodate the college’s changing demographics, as well as meeting the SACS accreditation requirement of providing facilities that support our programs.”

Of GGC’s current 5,754 students, about 15 percent are majoring in biology. This creates a need for advanced laboratory courses for more than 860 students. The college is requesting approval for a new chemistry major, which will generate a need for even more upper-level laboratory courses. Also, students needing upper-level laboratory courses include those majoring in exercise science, math and education.

The new laboratory facility is designed for eventual incorporation into the college’s planned Allied Health & Sciences building, which has not yet been funded. It will feature brick, glass and metal architecture to complement existing campus buildings. The laboratory facility’s intended LEED-silver certification is pending, based on completion of the full Allied Health & Sciences project.

The new structure includes a row of laboratories, fronted by windows and adjacent to an atrium-like hallway that will run the full length of the facility. The design provides natural lighting and allows passers-by to see laboratory activities.

“This is a ‘science on display’ concept. Our laboratories will be centrally located on the campus, not tucked away as they are at many institutions,” Mundie said. “Science and technology are so central to higher education, and to society in general, that we wanted a facility that emphasized this important role through its design and location.”

Mundie cited the need for the U.S. to stay competitive in the STEM disciplines – science, technology, engineering and mathematics – to be successful in the global economy. GGC is a valuable part of the conduit of students into the STEM disciplines, whether by producing graduates prepared for STEM careers or for graduate school in STEM fields, he said.

“Students can be excited by hands-on experiences in the STEM disciplines,” he said. “If they see it in action, touch it, smell it and answer open-ended questions with critical thinking, they can experience the scientific method and the discoveries it brings.”

Of the seven laboratories, one will be dedicated to computational sciences, one to multi-disciplinary research, one to physics, one to natural sciences and three to biology and chemistry courses. They will be equipped with an advanced audio-visual system, including high-definition and three-dimensional imaging capabilities. Each laboratory will accommodate 24 students.

GGC’s 10 existing laboratories are located in Building A, and were built for freshman and sophomore courses offered through the Gwinnett University Center, which originally occupied the space. These laboratories are operating at maximum capacity, including evening and Saturday sessions.

The college has put the new laboratory facility on a fast-track construction schedule, with occupancy scheduled by the first day of classes in late August.

“I’m so excited about watching this facility grow, knowing that I will be one of the first students to use it,” said Chelsea Hunter, a biology major and GGC Student Government Association senator representing the School of Science and Technology. She also served on the facility’s planning committee.

The project architects are Richard Wittschiebe Hand of Atlanta. The construction company is Garrard Construction of Duluth and the program manager is Hal Gibson Companies of West Point, Georgia.

The laboratory facility will be located in a former parking lot adjacent to the Library and Learning Center. The college is gradually creating a pedestrian campus, with parking located around a pedestrian core.

With completion of the structure, Georgia Gwinnett College’s facilities will surpass one million total square feet.

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