January 19, 2007

Grossmont College marks opening of $19.7 million science laboratory building

New laboratories a far cry from dilapidated labs of old

A $19.7 million science laboratory building will usher Grossmont College science programs into the modern era with the start of spring classes next week after decades of cramped quarters, a chronic shortage of labs and aging equipment.

The two-story, 38,000-square foot building, which broke ground in May, 2005, is the latest major Prop. R project to reach completion. Prop. R, the $207 million local bond measure approved by East County voters in 2002 for Grossmont and Cuyamaca colleges, is supplementing state funding for myriad projects dramatically transforming the East County colleges. Grossmont’s new science lab facility was built with $13 million in state bond funds and nearly $7 million from Prop. R.

“This new building has regional significance. It will mean more students are able to complete their university preparation in a shorter time and it will also help address the work-force shortages in nursing and other health-related occupations because all of these areas need science courses,” said governing board president Rick Alex-ander.

The building dedicated Jan. 17, is cause for celebration for students, particularly those in the nursing and other allied health programs, who have had to wait as long as four years to get into the prerequisite biology, chemistry and microbiology labs.

More classes welcomed

A total 33 new class sections are in the works over the next three years – 14 for the spring 2007 semester starting Jan. 22, based on the additional lab space and resources that the new facility will offer, administrators say. Vacancies left by retiring faculty have been filled, and additional hirings are planned.

With the new building, science labs will increase in number from seven to 11, accommodating added sections of high-demand classes. A shortage of lab space at Grossmont College has been a growing frustration for students competing for limited seats in anatomy, physiology, chemistry and biology – the preliminary courses they need to get into the college’s compacted allied health programs or to pursue other science-related careers.

With San Diego County developing into a major biotech hub, training students on modern equipment is especially critical, officials note.

So popular are the classes that most of the new sections added for spring are already filled, said Jerry Buckley, dean of mathematics, natural science, exercise science and wellness.

(There’s still time to register for spring semester classes, which carry the lower enrollment fee of $20 per unit. More information is available at the college Web sites, www.grossmont.edu or www.cuyamaca.edu).

The new science building housing labs for biology, chemistry and Earth sciences programs has a clean, contemporary design and ample natural lighting — a far cry from the low-slung, circa 1960s building of before, with its catacomb-like science labs and impossibly cramped prep and storage areas.

In addition to more lab space and expanded course offerings, students will benefit from the sophisticated, up-to-date equipment and tools available at the new facility, thanks to the $816,000 in bond funding for new furniture, lab and audio-video equipment. Additionally, a $98,200 federal grant has helped cover equipment costs.

From high-tech Olympus microscopes used in the anatomy lab to analyze tissue samples to equipment for protein separation in the biology department’s new cellular and molecular lab, the building’s equipment and teaching tools are generations more advanced than what students used before. For example, the new spectrophotometers – devices used to measure light intensity – are all digital, instead of analog as the old ones were.

A large, 40-station computer lab on the second-floor alcove of the new science laboratory building replaces a 28-station lab located in a cramped, retrofitted classroom. The computer desks in the new lab are ingeniously designed to allow the flat-screen monitors to be tucked away when more desk space is needed. Maps used in Earth sciences, for example, can be spread out and more easily viewed.

Biology department chair Virginia Dudley said faculty members have devised creative ways to deal with the equipment and technology shortcomings, but limitations have become more pronounced in the digital age.

“You get to the point where you really need the technology,” she said. “The old building was dilapidated. We were running out of room. The computers were old – we were always pushing the envelope with old equipment. The new facility offers huge improvements.”

Following on the heels of the building’s ribbon-cutting will be the Grossmont College Digital Arts and Sculpture Complex building dedication Feb. 2, and the Cuyamaca College Science and Technology Mall on April 19.

Still more facilities will be opening in the coming months at Cuyamaca: the communication arts building and the long-awaited student center.

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