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New chemistry building showcased at open house

Jan. 25, 2007

KALAMAZOO--Western Michigan University's new chemistry building will be on display Friday, Jan. 26, when the building's completion is celebrated from 2 to 4 p.m. with a public ceremony, an open house and guided tours of the state-of-the-art facility that's been attracting kudos campuswide.

The new $28.5 million building, which opened for classes Jan. 8, is located at the center of the WMU campus between Waldo Library and the Dalton Center. It has an aerial walkway connecting it to Wood Hall, and it joins other buildings in the University's science quadrangle.

The opening event will feature brief remarks at 2:15 p.m. by WMU Interim President Diether H. Haenicke; Trustee Dan Pero of Laingsburg, Mich.; Peter Aseritis of Williamsburg, Mich., who has just completed his term as a member of the WMU Board of Trustees; Dr. Thomas Kent, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences; and Loren Lapointe, a WMU senior majoring in biochemistry and Spanish. Student tour guides will take visitors on 15-minute tours of the building, beginning at 2:30 p.m., and throughout the afternoon, a slide show documenting development of the building will run continuously in Room 1270.

The new instructional facility replaces the aging McCracken Hall, which was built 58 years ago as the University's first "million dollar building" and the first major facility on land that has since become WMU's central campus. The new, three-story, 83,000-square-foot facility was begun in April 2005 and completed last December.

Built on a fast-track construction schedule to meet the need for top-notch student instruction space, the new building will see nearly 4,000 WMU students enjoying the classroom facilities each semester. In addition to chemistry, biochemistry, science, engineering and health studies majors, the new labs and classrooms will serve students who take chemistry to fulfill general education or other course requirements.

"Students have walked into this building for class over the past two weeks and they are simply awestruck by what they find," says Dr. Michael Barcelona, chair of WMU's Department of Chemistry. "We have the capability to broadcast lab demos and lectures anywhere in the world, and we can receive broadcast materials that will materially improve our ability to deliver modern science education."

The new classroom technology includes built-in teaching podiums with document cameras, DVD players and computer projection on dual screens. The technology will allow instructors to cater to students who solve problems visually as well as those who solve problems numerically. Both, Barcelona says, will benefit by gaining a deeper understanding of the subject.

"Our students are tuned to quickly processing information visually at a level that far surpasses that of earlier generations," he says. "This building, with its focus on visual learning, energy efficiency and safety, will be a learning resource for many decades to come."

Students for years to come also will benefit from a fund-raising effort built into the facility. Okemos, Mich., artists Amy Baur and Brian Boldon created the building's large-scale signature artwork--a mural for the main foyer called "Knowledge Made Matter," which is based on the Periodic Table of the Elements. The chart integrates high-resolution photography with the traditional architectural materials of ceramics and glass for a dramatic depiction of the classic chart studied by chemists and their students for generations. Donors may select an element to "buy" with a donation in the amount of $500, $1,000, $5,000 or $10,000. All funds raised will go to WMU's "Elemental Fund," which was established in 2005 to assist students who find themselves in personal or financial difficulty and who would otherwise have to interrupt their studies. To date, 16 of the 118 elements have sponsors, says Barcelona.

Other features in the building include a main-floor auditorium and two large lecture halls, small conference rooms, instructional laboratories, a student lounge, a teaching assistants briefing room and spaces dedicated for use by student organizations. Faculty offices are in nearby Wood Hall and can be accessed by a second-story enclosed walkway.

The building was designed by architects from Holabird and Root of Chicago and constructed by Miller-Davis Co. of Kalamazoo. Civil engineering was done by Fishbeck, Thompson, Carr and Huber Inc. of Grand Rapids, Mich., and landscape architects were O'Boyle, Cowell, Blalock and Associates Inc., also of Grand Rapids.

Members of the public attending the Jan. 26 event are encouraged to park in Lots # 40 and 41, which are located, respectively, in front of Sindecuse Health Center and behind Sangren Hall.

Media contact: Cheryl Roland, (269) 387-8400, cheryl.roland@wmich.edu

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