Stoffer construction complete–quirks and all

Richard Kelly and Corey Jones

Stoffer Science Hall recently received a $14 million facelift with new additions to Stoffer and the construction of up-to-date teaching labs. The completed project has been greeted with enthusiasm from Washburn and the science community on campus.

However, the gleam of the new materials can’t hide some of the complications that arose during the construction process, leading to some quirks and flaws in Stoffer.

The construction for the additions and renovations to Stoffer Science Hall began Sept. 6th, 2006 and ownership of the building was officially transferred to Washburn on Dec. 21, 2007. During the construction period, however, Washburn’s lead architect and designer Jeannie Robinson, who coordinated and planned the Stoffer project, left for a job in Lawrence. Additionally, Thomas Yang, the original head of facilities services at Washburn when the Stoffer project began, left part way through the project. Yang was replaced by Keith Palmbach, who left Washburn at the completion of the project.

Because of disconnect that occurred in communication as a result of staffing changes, notes were lost or forgotten and Stoffer experienced some difficulties in construction.

“It’s a lack of communication that caused a lot of this,” said John Mullican, associate professor of biology. “But it’s not just Washburn where this kind of thing has happened. It happens almost everywhere. But there are ways to avoid it, especially if there is a better connection between construction teams and faculty.”

Steve Angel, chair of the chemistry department, said the architects would leave some problems to be fixed by the contractors, Ferrell Construction being the main contractor, and the contractors would say it is a problem for the architects. In the end, the two groups didn’t communicate properly and wasted time assessing blame instead of tackling the problems.

“Facilities came in and made it happen,” said Angel. “We have a great facilities group over there. We’d tell them we have problems and they’d come over and work on them.”

Even with Washburn facilities services troubleshooting the building, some irreparable damage was caused.

“I had a freezer with years worth of stuff,” said Mullican. “It had research experiments, data, tissues, cells, and clones I had done when I was a graduate student. When I went in two weeks later after I had to move out of my room, the freezer had been unplugged and everything had thawed.”

Mullican’s damages occurred when a -20 C freezer was unplugged so it could be moved and was never plugged back in. Mullican estimates the damages to be around $25,000 for himself and about $12,000 for biology professor Duane Hinton, who also had items stored in the freezer. Mullican added that much of the work that was lost had extensive amounts of time and labor invested in them and figures the total losses to be closer to $500,000. But the University is reimbursing the more than $35,000 lost in freezer items.

Additionally, $12,000 to $15,000 worth of centrifuge rotors (used for separating and collecting particulates from solutions) went missing during the project and Mullican plans to file an insurance claim to get them replaced.

A few other problems were also discovered once construction had ceased. In two of the new classrooms a few desks were installed backward. Instead of swiveling towards the chalkboard, the students have to swivel to face the back of the classroom to use the pull-out desk. Another flaw in construction was a green roof with no way to get to it because there was no door constructed. A door had to be built in later in the project. Also, the projector units were installed in awkward locations in rooms. It is tougher to instruct with some of the projection screen’s view being obstructed by the unit and the professor who has to sit in front of the screen to operate the unit.

However, Mullican is still positive with the outcome of the project.

“I love the new space and the new rooms,” said Mullican. “We needed more space. We were crammed into old, small labs. We jammed 30 students into a lab and now we have 16 in a lab, so it’s better teaching and a better student-to-faculty ratio in class.”

Angel also sees many positives out of the Stoffer project. Angel said the new hood space for chemistry experiments in the teaching labs across the building is great and the uniqueness of the study experience that is offered because of the hoods is vital.

“There’s something that we do at Washburn as an undergraduate university that is not done at large universities like KU and K-State,” said Angel. “We focus all of our learning on the undergraduates. We have our freshmen working with chemicals that require them to be in the hoods. At a Division I research institute, the graduate student is more focused on instead.”

Mullican and Angel believe the unique experiences and opportunities available should help attract students to Washburn.

“Any student who is to go out to the facilities around Kansas and compare Washburn — looking at their science department right now — would be stupid not to come here,” said Angel. “The reputation of the science department here is second-to-none.”

Jayme Barnes, a freshman biology major, was one of the students who recently started at Washburn after renovations were finished. Barnes had several reasons for coming to Washburn, but she also is impressed with Stoffer and the opportunities offered within.

“I like the cellular biology lab a lot because it’s so independent and we get to do a lot of hands-on work, same with my chemistry lab,” said Barnes. “I get to learn on my own and I don’t have to be handheld and guided.”

Facilities services continues to handle any quirks or flaws and does its best to take care of problems in a timely and efficient manner based on budget constraints.

“Whenever we’ve had the opportunity to make the professor and the students better, we’ve tried to do that within the budget we’ve had,” said Ed Wiss, assistant director of maintenance for Washburn facilities services. “So if they wanted something that wasn’t a part of the original project and outside of the budget’s goals, then we’ve asked that department to pay for that change.”

Even with the quirks, flaws and difficulties throughout the construction process, Stoffer is a modern science hall with classrooms outfitted for hands-on study in the 21st century.

“It’s kind of like we wanted a corvette with a sunroof but we got a corvette without a sunroof and now we’re complaining because we don’t have our sunroof,” said Angel. “But it’s still a corvette.”