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Bridgewater State showcases its new science building

Facility is first phase of $98.7m, 212,000-square-foot center

The center features a tree house-style atrium, with glass walls and open stairways, and specialized equipment. The center features a tree house-style atrium, with glass walls and open stairways, and specialized equipment. (Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff)
By Paul E. Kandarian
Globe Correspondent / September 15, 2011

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BRIDGEWATER - Ryan Stephansky, a junior biology major at Bridgewater State University, is uncertain about his future. The 20-year-old Whitman resident said he may go on to graduate school, or take a year off and get a job in the industry he’s studying.

But whatever he does, he said, going to Bridgewater State now is “more than anyone could ask for.’’

Stephansky, whose father, Mark, is a biology teacher at Whitman-Hanson Regional High School, said the reason he feels privileged was where he was standing: a biology lab in the newly opened first phase of Bridgewater State’s $98.7-million science and mathematics center.

The first phase is 168,000 square feet of new construction. The second phase, due for completion by the start of the 2012 academic year, is being carved out of a remaining wing of the old Conant Science Building next door. The rest of Conant is being razed and will be replaced by green space. Furniture from the former science and math buildings has been donated to schools in Haiti, university officials said.

At 212,000 square feet, the center has more than double the space it had for math and science studies that had been in two buildings. The new center will be the “largest construction project ever undertaken by an institution in the state university system,’’ said Arthur Goldstein, dean of the college of science and math at BSU.

The center’s first-phase building atrium was done in “tree house’’ style architecture, Goldstein said, with towering glass walls that face the Conant, which should be demolished in the next few weeks.

In the atrium there will be a rain garden, and outside will have a $1 million greenhouse replacing one that had been there since 1924, he said. It will be part of science studies, with plants there used for research.

The layout of the new building, which has Wi-Fi throughout, is more organized than the old. Before, science and math studies were housed in different buildings, with departments somewhat scattered in them, Goldstein said. In the new center, all are under one roof, with each floor designated to a department.

The ground floor houses classroom space and a 200-seat auditorium, while the second floor, with greenhouse and garden views, has open lounges for student studies, with large white boards for student use, and geographic information system (GIS) labs. There is also a wind tunnel, which is used for geographic and aviation studies, Goldstein said.

The third floor is home to biology, the largest major in the sciences, with teaching labs and specialized equipment, and an imaging lab. Overall, the university spent nearly $1 million on new instruments for the center.

The fourth floor houses the chemistry department, with a large student-and-faculty research lab, and the fifth floor is home to astronomy, with a new observatory replacing one that was “full of holes,’’ said Karen Jason, associate vice president for facilities management and planning.

The observatory floor has four platforms outside, where a dozen 8-inch telescopes will be mounted. Those will be open to the public for viewings, and for programs for school groups and teachers, all free, Jason said. Grass and plants will be installed, and on one side are solar panels used for heating water in the building. The observatory dome is 20 feet in diameter and has a 1-ton concrete platform in its center to mount a 14-inch telescope. For viewing schedules, visit

Jeffrey Bowen, professor and chairman of the biology department, said there is a cellular research lab where cancer cells are being studied, with groups of eight students working on programmed cell death, called apoptosis.

“It’s unusual to do tissue culture at the undergraduate level,’’ Bowen said, “but the equipment here allows us to do it. We won’t find a cure for cancer, but we will get students excited about research.’’

The building will eventually be certified by the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, system developed by the US Green Building Council, Jason said. Throughout the building are water refilling stations - no plastic water bottles are sold here, Goldstein said - and being constructed outside is a 500,000-gallon tank to retain non-potable storm water, to be used in the building.

The new center comes at a good time for students, Goldstein said, because “Silicon Valley and Eastern Massachusetts are considered the hotbeds for scientific research’’ and will mean more jobs for graduates.

University president Dana Mohler-Faria said that over the last several years, the school has filled 55 new tenure-track faculty positions, boosting its professor ranks by 21 percent, at a time when student enrollment has increased 35 percent.

The nearly $100 million project broke ground in the summer of 2009, but had been in the works for 10 years, university officials said. The bond bill for the project was approved in 2007.

The end result was good enough for Kathryn St. Laurent of Lakeville, a physics major.

“I’d looked at a couple of other colleges, including Amherst’’ in the University of Massachusetts system, said St. Laurent, who transferred here from Bristol Community College. “But I came here, just for the facilities.’’

Paul E. Kandarian can be reached at