College ushers in era of new science center; WMC dedicates building that puts lack of space in the past


Western Maryland College officials -- at a dedication ceremony yesterday for the school's new science center -- called the building "extraordinary," "amazing," "a dream."

Jason C. Valentine was upbeat but more reserved in his praise. The WMC senior said he's happy the new building has better air circulation than the school's older science labs.

"There was this stagnant chemical smell in there which was probably not good for your health, in addition to being unpleasant," he said.

The Science Center -- a $13.4 million facility that opened in August but was officially dedicated yesterday in Baker Memorial Chapel -- is the most expensive structure on the Westminster campus. It marks the first time the college has inaugurated an academic building in 33 years.

Joan Develin Coley, WMC's provost, applauded the school's scientists for their successes despite less-than-ideal working conditions. In cramped Lewis Recitation Hall, the oldest science building, lab benches date to 1914. When WMC got its first electron microscope, it had to be housed in a broom closet because of lack of space.

"Our scientists now have a building that is almost commensurate with their talents and ambitions," Coley said.

The four-story, 50,000-square-foot facility -- mostly lab space that can be used for small classes -- was built with the help of a $3.5 million state grant. The rest came from foundations and private donations, and college officials said the building might later be named for a major donor.

Lack of research space

In the older science facilities -- Lewis Recitation Hall, built 85 years ago, and an addition to that building in 1966 -- professors and students complained of poor lighting, leaky roofs, stifling temperatures in the warmer months and a lack of quality research space. The hall and addition are still in use.

Two seniors -- Valentine and his research partner, John R. Seiders II -- have been studying synthesized anti-HIV drugs in recent years, but could not find lab space except during summers and vacations. The two students, who plan to continue their studies in graduate school next year, have claimed one of three student-only research rooms in the new building.

In the past, Seiders said, "once the summer was over, you had to wrap things up and put it all on pause." He stood beside a sparkling new fume hood that safely sucks up dangerous chemical vapors and said he's happy their research space can be used during semester time.

"Now we can come up here and get some work done," Seiders said.

At yesterday's ceremony -- which drew several hundred guests including students, staff and faculty clad in academic regalia -- WMC President Robert H. Chambers called the Science Center "a miracle."

'One of the finest buildings'

Chambers amused the audience, rattling off some of the building's lesser-known facts -- such as its 50 miles of electrical wiring and 10 miles of telephone data cable. There are giant windows all over the red-brick structure, and the hallways on the upper floors offer picturesque views of the Catoctin Mountains.

"This new structure most surely ranks as one of the finest buildings of its kind in the United States," Chambers said. "This new building is big in every way."

Philip L. Meredith, a 1966 WMC graduate and director of biomedical sciences and engineering in Dupont Co.'s research and development division, emphasized that students, when they reminisce, won't be remembering only the physical structure and its bells and whistles.

"Thirty-five years from now, when this building is considered obsolete and a new building is being dedicated," Meredith said, "what they will really remember is what happens in there."

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