The STEM department at Bucks County Community College’s Newtown campus just got a 43,000-square-foot upgrade.
The state-of-the-art Science Center will be ready to go when spring semester begins on Jan. 18, nearly three years after shovels first hit the dirt in June 2014.
“One of the things we really spent a lot of time on the front end is talking to faculty about what they needed in each laboratory,” said BCCC President Stephanie Shanblatt during a press tour held before the official ribbon-cutting ceremony last week.
From the looks of it, the college delivered on the promise of making the space modern, adaptable for different kinds of learning and maybe a bit ahead of the curve technology-wise.
The Science Center should allow for the school to keep pace with learning standards of even most four-year schools — not bad for an institution that before this year was relying on 40- or 50-year-old labs to house its STEM department.
The two-story connection to Founders Hall hosts 10 laboratories, two prep areas for biology and chemistry, four student collaboration spaces, computer labs and indoor and outdoor gathering areas.
Through the massive glass windows on the front side of the building, workers could be seen resodding the circular field outside. Before that, they dug about 60 geothermal wells so the building could be heated and cooled geothermally.
The Linksz Pavilion across from the new Science Center also employed that practice when it was built in 2011, as well as the Lower and Upper Bucks campuses.
“We’re continuing on that trajectory,” Shanblatt said. “It saves us a ton on energy, and we think it sets a nice example for our students.”
Apart from the landscapes surrounding the campus seen through the floor-to-ceiling glass windows, the building itself provides some nice views.
One is the living wall, made from live plants in the main entrance area, which extends almost the height of the building. The greenery up front hides the irrigation system built behind.
“It’s aesthetic. It’s a reminder that there is a lot of biology that goes on in this building,” Shanblatt said.
The laboratories and classrooms themselves are a sight to see. One of the focuses for the design was to use a lot of glass, so students and visitors outside the rooms could see what’s going on inside.
“Every student regardless of what their major is will likely be in here for one class,” said Interim Dean of STEM Debra Geoghan.
That’s where conventional wisdom informs the design: if students can see what’s going on inside the biology and chemistry classrooms, they may be more interested in taking classes in those fields.
With the new facility, that’s a good bet, especially when looking at the more interesting classroom layouts.
Most of the lab tables are mobile, so teachers can choose their preferred layouts. Inside some are double-sided fume hoods, protective areas where experiments take place. They ventilate potentially toxic gasses for safety and protect the experiment from outside exposure, especially important for advanced projects that may be more volatile.
The anatomy and physiology labs are connected by double-sided doors, which house skeletons and muscle models. There, the design doubles again as an aesthetic and adaptable feature.
But the crown jewels of the new project may just be the organic chemistry suite with a separated lab and the computer room as well as the biotechnology lab with its own tissue culture lab.
“They’re pretty special,” Shanblatt said.
The college has not yet confirmed new courses that the facility will allow it to offer, but many of the lab-based classes in the STEM department are expected to start in there in the spring semester.
“There are lots of opportunities for collaborative learning, for team-based learning,” Shanblatt said. “We’re trying to, just by the space itself, incorporate lots of those soft skills that are needed to be successful.” ••