Baylor Breaks Ground On $103 Million Sciences Building

  • News Photo 337
    Rendering of Baylor Sciences Building from University Parks Drive.
  • News Photo 354
    A 13x24 foot screen showing the future Baylor Sciences Building provided the backdrop for the groundbreaking.
May 17, 2002

by Lori Scott Fogleman

Baylor University broke ground today on the largest building project ever in the university's 157-year history -- the $103 million Baylor Sciences Building -- a multidisciplinary sciences facility that will give Baylor an unprecedented environment for equipping students as leaders in solving future scientific challenges.

Video from the groundbreaking is available now at http://www.baylortv.com/ .

Several groups of Baylor administrators, regents, faculty, staff and students took part in the ceremonial groundbreaking on what will be the largest academic center on the Baylor campus, located on the current intramural fields adjacent to the McLane Student Life Center. Construction on the four-story, 500,000-square-foot building will begin in June, with completion slated for fall 2004. New intramural fields are nearing completion on LaSalle Avenue across from the Ferrell Center.

The construction of the Baylor Sciences Building represents one of the key academic imperatives of Baylor 2012, the university's recently adopted 10-year vision, which calls for Baylor to enter the top tier of American universities over the next decade while reaffirming and strengthening its distinctive Christian mission.

"Science education is essential to our vision and mission as a university committed to academic excellence and Christian faith," said Baylor President Robert B. Sloan Jr. "This innovative facility will unite under one roof the foundational sciences and multidisciplinary centers and will challenge the way we prepare students in the sciences at Baylor. The Baylor Sciences Building will stand as a milestone in science education that will have few, if any, peers nationally."

The new building will consolidate departments currently located in Sid Richardson and Marrs McLean science buildings, which were built 30 years ago when Baylor was half its present size. The new facility's three research wings will house:


* the life sciences (biology and neuroscience);


* the physical sciences (physics, chemistry and geology);


* and five multidisciplinary research/education centers on prehealth education, molecular biosciences, drug discovery, reservoir and water studies, and scientific analysis and computing.

Baylor has been a leading proponent for multidisciplinary approaches in science teaching and research since the 1970s, Sloan said, noting the establishment of several interdisciplinary majors at Baylor, such as environmental studies, neuroscience, forensic science, biomedical studies and limnology.

Two additional interdisciplinary programs -- biochemistry, which was established in 1996 and headed by Dr. Marianna A. Busch, professor and chair of chemistry and biochemistry; and bioinformatics, which was created in 1998 -- have each experienced immediate recognition and growth.

Busch, who served on a self-study committee more than 17 years ago that discussed Baylor's need for science facility improvements even then, called the Baylor Sciences Building "a dream of the 80s" that has finally been realized in the new millennium.

"From a faculty perspective, the new sciences building provides the facility we absolutely need if the sciences departments are to help in achieving Baylor's 10-year vision," Busch said. "This new vision will take the university to the next higher level and by 2012 we can certainly see ourselves taking our place besides such top tier American universities as Notre Dame, Vanderbilt and Duke."

Baylor's Associate Dean for Sciences Ben Pierce oversaw the academic planning for the Baylor Sciences Building, working closely with the chairs of the six sciences departments at Baylor. The questions scientists are addressing today, Pierce said, are complex, multidimensional problems like global warming, the aging population, dwindling water resources and new and reemerging diseases that cannot be solved by a single discipline.

"These are not problems of chemistry, or physics, or biology, but problems that can only be solved by combining the creative energies of scientists from all the sciences," he said.

Pierce, also a professor of biology, said the real significance of the building is not in its physical structure but in the way it will transform sciences at Baylor.

"This vision of a new culture of science at Baylor is reflected in four major themes that have served as the guiding principles for the design of the new science building, which are fostering multidisciplinary science, encouraging an interactive science community; creating a culture of discovery and ensuring future flexibility," he said.

Each of the themes is reflected in the design approved by the Baylor Board of Regents in February 2002. It includes:

* Three wings that will span out toward University Parks Drive. The front of the building will face the McLane Student Life Center.

* Modular design to maximize flexibility. Utilities come from a 3-foot space above the ceiling and are not built into the walls. Classrooms and labs can be enlarged or reduced as needed.

* 90 research laboratories which are planned for the new building, including an additional 30,000 square feet of research space for future faculty.

* A 300-seat auditorium and a variety of classroom sizes, from 150 seats to numerous smaller, 12-person classrooms.

* Four-story atrium designed to promote student and faculty interaction.

* Combination of Georgian and Victorian architecture to complement existing campus buildings.

* Two towers, reminiscent of the towers of Old Main and Burleson, at each corner of the building's front, featuring student lounges and small conference rooms.

* Four usable stories and a fifth floor under a sloped roof that will house mechanical equipment and other research support space.

The groundbreaking ceremony itself was led by Sloan, who rode a bulldozer that turned the first dirt on the site. Among the other groundbreaking participants was Gabriel C. Calzada, a 1998 Baylor biochemistry graduate and now a surgical resident at Baylor College of Medicine.

In his remarks, Calzada was clearly impressed by the significance, and sheer size, of the Baylor Sciences Building.

"This day will be documented, written about, photographed and spoken about for decades to come," Calzada said.

The Baylor alumnus also serves on the medical school's admissions committee. As he reviews the applications of future physicians, he said he deeply appreciates the impact of his Baylor education, which grounded him not only in science, but also in faith and ethics, a fact reiterated by Baylor's president.

"I strongly believe that Baylor's integration of academic excellence and Christian commitment uniquely equips students to address those tough ethical issues during their careers, a skill that typically isn't addressed in medical or graduate school curriculum," Sloan said. "Tomorrow's leaders must prepare not only for the merger of science and technology, but also the ethical and social challenges this merger creates. Baylor's heritage and vision uniquely position us to meet this challenge."

Pierce said there are many impressive things about the Baylor Sciences Building, ranging from size to cost to its planned cutting edge technology. Yet it's the culture change, Pierce said, that will make the greatest difference for Baylor.

"This new culture will produce not just excellent scientists, doctors, nurses, and teachers, but graduates who will be future world leaders in science and health care," he said.

Looking for more news from Baylor University?