Tracy Hall Science Center at Weber State University — VCBO Architecture
Located along the western edge of the Wasatch Mountains in Ogden, Utah, Weber State University is a public, coeducational institution offering more than 250 technical certificates, associate, bachelor’s and master’s degrees.
While the 26,000-student university offers degrees in a range of fields from visual and performing arts to business, economics and education, it is Weber State’s science and math programs that will benefit from the school’s latest construction project: the new, $61 million Tracy Hall Science Center.
At 174,000 square feet, the Tracy Hall Science Center will be the largest building on the Weber State University campus. The building will also be one of the most often used on campus as almost all students will take a general education course at the Tracy Hall Science Center during their undergraduate education.
The number of students enrolled in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs at Weber State University has increased by 50 percent over the last 10 years and represents an area of significant growth and potential with STEM. The new facility will not only address several safety and structural issues posed by the current science building, but will also allow Weber State to breathe new life into the university’s science and math programs.
The science of design
The construction of the Tracy Hall Science Center, based on designs from Salt Lake City firm VCBO Architecture, began in March 2014. The Science Center is being built by Okland Construction with completion expect in Fall 2016.
The project is well within the wheelhouse of Salt Lake City-based Okland Construction, which has completed a number of academic and science buildings since it was founded in 1918. In fact, many of the Okland employees on the job, including project manager Andrew Johnson, had just come off another science building project prior to completing the Tracy Hall Science Center.
“It’s a big project for the campus and includes lots of examples of science on display,” says Johnson.
Designed as a cutting-edge science center with full laboratory facilities, classrooms and offices, the new building is designed around this concept of science on display, featuring windows throughout the facility that students and passersby can look in to see working laboratories and experiments. A three-story atrium in the heart of the building will serve as an informal meeting space for students and faculty and will feature a towering sculpture from internationally recognized artist Michael Singer.
The Tracy Hall Science Center reflects the work being done inside down to the smallest detail, including a unique brick pattern on the facility’s western pillars that can be read as a DNA sequence spelling out “Tracy Hall Science Center” and outlining the basics of the scientific method.
The new facility is named after the two families long associated with both WSU and the school’s commitment to quality science education. Aaron Tracy was one of the school’s first presidents, serving from 1922 to 1935. His grandson, H. Tracy Hall, still stands as one of Weber State’s most accomplished science graduates.
After graduating from Weber College in 1939, Hall went on to earn his Bachelor and Master of Science degrees at the University of Utah before inventing the world’s first high-pressure/high-temperature process to manufacture synthetic diamonds in a laboratory setting; an innovation that earned him more than 19 patents and numerous awards.
A case of missing glass
Lab buildings require unwavering attention to detail from all members of the design and construction teams. By relying on a trusted network of experienced subcontractors, Okland Construction was able to minimize complications and bring the project in on time and on budget.
“To credit the Okland Construction team, I would say despite the scale and complexity of this project, things have run very smoothly,” says Celestia Carson, principal at VCBO Architecture.
This does not mean the process was without incident. When Okland’s glass casework subcontractor filed bankruptcy shortly before the project was slated to begin, the construction company was left scrambling for a replacement. Okland settled on another glass casework manufacturer, only to be let down once again.
“They had an excellent project, but after several months of waiting it was clear that they weren’t going to be able to meet our schedule, so we actually had to go to a third manufacturer late in the game,” says Johnson.
Knowing that it needed a tried-and-true glass casework manufacturer to bring the project home in the late stages, Okland reached out to Ontario-based CiF Lab Solutions. “They were able to punch out this casework and now we’re back on track and things are looking good,” Johnson says.
Building a reputation in science and education
As with many higher education construction projects, sustainability was a critical part of the new science center’s design and construction. This was especially true at Weber State, where the school has a stated goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050.
“The mechanical system of this building is very complex and will be the largest energy user on campus, so it was important to design the mechanical system so that it was not only very energy efficient, but that it could also be operated without the use of fossil fuels in the future,” says Carson. Colvin Engineering, VCBO’s mechanical consultant, solved this problem by installing a large heat pump chiller supplied by a series of underground thermal reservoirs to help cool the building.
Both Okland Construction and VCBO have ample experience in this particular market niche, with both companies completing a number of academic buildings and science centers in recent years. Okland has built numerous academic buildings, including science and technology facilities, all across the Beehive State, including the University of Utah Ray and Tye Noora Oral Health Sciences Building, Brigham Young University College of Life Sciences and the University of Utah Thatcher Building for Biological and Biophysical Chemistry Addition.
Tracy Hall Science Center at Weber State University, built by Okland Construction, will allow Weber State University to build on its proud history of science education while training the next generation of innovators in the lucrative and vital STEM fields.
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