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WSUV breaks ground on science building

Leaders of Washington State University Vancouver ceremoniously broke ground on their Sciences Building on Thursday morning.

Set to open to students in fall 2023, the building will serve as an instructional and research facility featuring lab space, classrooms and offices primarily for those studying life sciences such as biology and chemistry. It will also feature space for programs in nursing, psychology and medicine.

“In my 10th year, it is just a dream to be at this place,” WSU Vancouver Chancellor Mel Netzhammer said in front of the soon-to-be-building, with Mount St. Helens looming among the clouds behind him. “The Sciences Building is designed to be a welcoming and connecting space for the whole campus community.”

The university was awarded $52.6 million as part of the state’s 2021-23 capital budget to fund the project, which is estimated to cost $57.1 million in total. The university is planning to raise another $10 million to fund the addition of a greenhouse.

Along with Netzhammer, WSU President Kirk Schulz and a handful of state legislators spoke to articulate how education projects like this have been critical in recent years.

“We knew that this was going to be one of the key priorities that we would try to fund in higher education last year, and I’m just so happy we were able to get it done,” said Sen. Dave Frocht, who represents the greater Seattle area.

A new phase for WSUV

WSU Vancouver opened to students in 1996, when the landscape of education looked vastly different and the demand for STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — programs wasn’t as steep. Since the school expanded to educate freshmen and sophomores in 2006, the school said the desire for lab spaces that support these STEM fields has “exploded.”

A building with this focus couldn’t have come at a better time.

Not only will this building facilitate the continued growth of the Vancouver campus, but its focus on life sciences is all the more relevant as the community — and the world — begin to emerge from the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, said both Frocht and Schulz.

“Since the start of the pandemic, a lot of people have become curious about medicinal research and vaccines,” Schulz said. “Even though we planned this building way before that, I think the research that will be done in this building is even more relevant.”

Schulz said what began as an extension of Pullman’s campus has now blossomed into a beacon of pride that supports Southwest Washington’s rapidly growing community.

“When we started with a single building, I don’t think anyone really conceived what it could look like now,” he said. “This continues to add the infrastructure we need. For Southwest Washington students, it would mean they don’t have to leave the area to go get a four-year degree or to do research.”

Netzhammer began the event with a land acknowledgement, which noted the native tribes whose land the new building will be built upon. He then turned over the microphone to Roben White, a descendant of the Cheyenne and Lakota tribes and a member of the school’s Native American Community Advisory Board for a land blessing.

White emphasized the importance of how the construction of a new sciences building could incorporate traditional ecological knowledge from local native tribes into the lessons taught there someday.

“I really hope that the university starts to work with local tribes to teach a lot of our curriculums and to make sure that these jobs, as many as possible, are occupied by native people,” White said.

Designers said the building will feature art and culture of the local Cowlitz tribes, as well as elements that highlight the colors and patterns of the regional environment.