Fairbanks, AK - University of Alaska, Fairbanks Faculty and Staff gathered Thursday for the ribbon cutting and dedication of the new Margaret Murie Life Science Building. The new building houses the Department of Biology and Wildlife alongside the Institute of Arctic Biology. KUAC’s Emily Schwing got a behind the scenes tour of the new state- of-the-art research laboratories, classrooms and offices.
The smell of new paint and a freshly waxed floor wafts through the air… and on a clear day, sunlight streams through two-story tall windows of the foyer of a brand new science facility at UAF. Brian Barnes is the Director of the Institute of Arctic Biology. He says he’s been waiting for this new building to become a reality for more than a decade. “We were teaching out students in classrooms that were built in 1965 and 1967," says Barnes. We had kids coming from high schools that had better facilities than the University. That’s no longer true.” Barnes is standing next to Paul Layer, UAF’s Dean of the College of Natural Science and Mathematics. Layer says it’s also been many years since UAF’s Biology Department has been housed in one location. “Biology is the largest major at UAF. We have over 400 majors in Biology and Wildlife and it’s the largest graduate program as well," says Layer. "And so for us to have a place that has the state of the art kind of facilities that we can use and students have access to is really for us way, way overdue.”
The new building is named for Margaret Murie, the first woman to graduate from the Alaska’s Agricultural College and School of Mines in 1924. The school later became UAF. Murie is better known as a naturalist and author who helped found a conservation movement in the United States. The building itself is bright, dominated by open space, large windows and lots of glass. As you walk through the hallways, you can catch a glimpse into laboratories and research space. Brian Barnes says that was the ultimate goal. “One of the driving principles was to have research and instruction and teaching labs near each other so that undergrads coming to class would walk by research labs that they could look into and see other undergrads in there and think ‘I want to do that too,’" says Barnes. "So that’s the juxtaposition and then we have faculty and graduate students thrown into the mix as well.” On the first floor, there’s a 150 seat auditorium equipped with smart-room technology for lectures and presentations. Instead of chalkboards, there are sliding glass panels at the front for instructors. Across the hallway, Paul Layer tries out one of the new chairs in a high tech classroom. They’re black, wide and round around the bottom and wheeled.
They have desktops attached and even a cup holder. Layer shows off how the desks and chairs maneuver so students can break into groups. “Biology has really embraced the idea of doing a lecture then getting together, working on small projects, small demonstrations, groups discussing problems," he explains, "and then sharing that with a larger classroom as opposed to sort of standing up and talking for an hour.”
The building is equipped with low flow plumbing, water filters and a high tech ventilation system. Brian Barnes says, despite the wide-open space and the large windows, it’s also extremely energy efficient. “It’s supposed to be the most modern building in the state in terms of efficiencies." He says there’s only one thing he’d change. “We would have had a fourth floor," he laughs. " We would have made it bigger, because we’re still are crammed for research space for faculty throughout, but within the design, actually ask us in a year, because we really want the students in here and we want to try it out some more.”
State bonding funded the 88.5 million dollar project. It came in more than 850 thousand dollars under budget. Construction was completed earlier than planned. Classes began here in May. Students will return for the fall semester next week.