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Biosphere 2 Breaks Ground on $10 Million Student Housing

By Mariellen Gallagher

Columbia's Biosphere 2 Center has launched a $10-million building project to accommodate expansion of undergraduate education programs and facilities.

The project, which was announced by the trustees last December, was launched Dec. 14 on the Biosphere 2 campus.

The student village plan calls for the addition of 60,000 square feet of housing and a commons area. The first units of student housing are scheduled to open by fall 2001. The new facilities will be able to accommodate in excess of 200 resident students and student life staff. This expansion will allow the campus to support up to 300 resident students for the semester-based program.

It is by far the largest construction project on the campus in Oracle, Ariz., since the huge steel and glass Biosphere 2 Laboratory was completed nearly a decade ago. The project offers one more example of the University's leadership in promoting scientific excellence in earth and environmental sciences.

In November, world-renowned plant biologist, Charles Barry Osmond, was named president and executive director of the campus.

"The recent renovation and re-engineering of the Biosphere 2 Laboratory created a world class research platform that will attract scientists from around the world" Osmond said. "The addition of student housing, classrooms and a much needed learning resource center will help us meet the academic standards set by Columbia University."

Biosphere 2 Center, Columbia's western campus, currently offers two undergraduate education programs: Earth Semester, an interdisciplinary Earth systems science curriculum and Universe Semester, a program in astrophysics and astronomy. "When completed, I believe we will have one of the most interesting and unique student residences in the country," said Chris Bannon, Biosphere 2's chief of staff and vice president for Operations and Facilities.

Bannon will oversee the construction project at Columbia's Arizona campus with Director of Facilities Clark Reddin acting as the day-to-day program manager. Sundt Construction, Inc. of Tucson is the general contractor for the project. The architect is the IEF group of Tucson.

"This is an exciting project and an exciting time for Columbia, for Arizona, Tucson, and especially for the Biosphere 2 campus," said John Sundt, vice president of Sundt Construction. "We are honored to be selected and excited to be involved in what we hope is just the beginning of the new Biosphere 2 campus."

IEF's Klindt Breckenridge called the project "Great, both professionally and personally. I hope other colleges will take a look at what is being created at the Columbia campus in Oracle and strive to provide their students with a similar living experience."

Columbia dedicated a new student center and astronomy observatory with a state-of-the-art, 24-inch telescope last fall. But the upcoming construction project represents a major expansion of physical plant and commitment. "Columbia is playing a central role in developing integrated approaches for research in support of the long-term sustainability of the planet," said Michael Crow, executive vice provost. "By providing an intellectual atmosphere where students can be steeped in the Earth systems sciences, we are making an important investment both in education and in our planet."

The new construction complements a $1-million renovation of existing campus buildings. Those renovations included the conversion of the former administration headquarters to a new undergraduate education center with electronic classrooms for the Universe Semester students. The building renovation also created outdoor classroom space, a central informal study and gathering space for students and a seminar room equipped with state-of-the-art electronics.

The education center includes office space for Biosphere 2 Center's new Director of Education Chuck Wood, who arrives in January. "The simple act of vacating and renovating the main administrative building for use by students and faculty says a lot about the long-term commitment to this educational endeavor," said Wood.

Columbia established a western campus at Biosphere 2 in 1996. Last December, trustees of the University approved spending $50 million to further enhance research capabilities inside the Biosphere 2 Laboratory and to expand undergraduate enrollment, develop new academic programs and construct new facilities on the Biosphere 2 campus.

The Biosphere 2 Laboratory offers unique opportunities to study Earth systems science. The Packard Foundation has awarded a nearly $1 million grant for research into the effects of varying temperature and carbon dioxide levels on rainforests and ocean ecosystems. These projects and others funded by Columbia and the National Science Foundation are currently being conducted by prominent researchers from Columbia, the Carnegie Institution of Washington, the University of Hawaii and other institutions.

Published: Dec 13, 2000
Last modified: Sep 18, 2002

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