Columbus State University ceremonially broke ground Monday on a project that will renovate and expand 28-year-old LeNoir Hall to produce a state-of-the-art science facility.
The project, expected to cost an estimated $14 million and be completed by fall 2018, will construct a 22,000-square-foot addition with six new science teaching labs and student study spaces plus two more labs in the renovated building. The architect is 2WR of Columbus, and the contractor is Parrish Construction Group of Perry, Ga.
LeNoir Hall is named after William “Bill” LeNoir, who twice served as acting president of Columbus College, now Columbus State University, during his 34-year career as a botany professor. He retired as dean emeritus of the science school in 1995, and he died at 86 on Aug. 1, 2016, in Loudon, Tenn.
CSU President Chris Markwood thanked the local legislative delegation and state Rep. Earl Ehrhart, R-Powder Springs, who chairs the Higher Education Subcommittee on the Appropriations Committee in the Georgia House, for helping to secure the project’s state funding of approximately $12 million. Markwood also thanked the CSU Foundation for its contribution of $2 million from private donors.
“This will provide an opportunity to really continue to expand the collaborative education that we are known for here at Columbus State University,” Markwood said, “allowing our students and our faculty to work together in their lab science research.”
Markwood called the project “another example of the partnership that exists between this community and this university, a partnership that I believe is not duplicated anywhere else in this state and possibly in this country.”
And state leaders who decide funding have noticed.
“You are probably better represented than most, but it’s the community here that makes the big difference,” Ehrhart said. “… Columbus State starts off four steps ahead of everybody else.”
CSU biology professor Glenn Stokes, interim associate provost, was the first faculty member to move into the building when it opened in 1989. He explained how the sciences have grown at CSU during the past 28 years:
▪ From two departments (biology and chemistry/geology) to three departments (biology, chemistry and earth/space sciences, comprising eight new major programs, plus graduate tracks).
▪ From 20 faculty members to more than 40.
▪ From 120 student majors to approximately 700.
▪ From being discouraged to do research (because it took professors out of the classroom) to being expected to conduct research even with undergraduates.
“The demand has far outgrown the facility,” Stokes said. “… We’ve got faculty residing in janitor closets.”
CSU senior Michael Rohly, a double major in biology and math, recently won prizes for his research on adult zebra fish kidney regeneration and possible therapeutic systems for humans.
Rohly gave credit to the “incredible faculty, who absolutely make everything that I do here worthwhile,” and he expressed gratitude to the project’s planners, who allowed students to provide their input.
“The thing that we’ve been limited by completely as students is the space,” Rohly said. “The plus side to this is that it’s forced us to be resourceful and somewhat innovative when it comes to research, meaning you do it on a budget sometimes, but as a student who fortunately visited other research institutions for summer programs, such as the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, and this summer I’ll be attending Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore to do research, I see what can happen when you do have resources, when you do have this lab space available, and I think that we will move in and produce a lot more results than we currently have.”
Dennis Rome, dean of CSU’s College of Letters & Sciences, made it clear why having a state-of-the-art facility matters when it comes to educating the next generation of professionals in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and math.
“It’s predicted by next year, 2018, there will be eight million jobs in STEM in the U.S.,” Rome said. “Unfortunately, the vast majority of U.S. students will not be prepared to fill these jobs …”
Then, after a dramatic pause, Rome sparked laughter as he added, “-- unless they enroll in Columbus State University and graduate from our premier college, the College of Letters & Sciences, where STEM is one of our signature programs.”