NORTH ADAMS -- Seven years ago, at the traditional MCLA breakfast that kicks off each new academic year, President Mary K. Grant embarked on a campaign to bring a science center to the college campus.

The MCLA Center for Science and Innovation has been a topic of discussion at every opening breakfast since 2006. But at Tuesday's gathering, Grant spoke enthusiastically about the $30 million building's opening.

"It's wonderful to see this building come to life," Grant said. "We began with a series of conversations imagining how we want to teach and learn and engage, which translated into the physical space."

While the college won't celebrate the building's completion until Oct.

4, when an official ribbon-cutting ceremony is scheduled, the science center will open for classes at 8 a.m. today.

Professor Daniel Connerton will hold the first class in the new 76-seat auditorium on the first floor.

"It's just tremendous," Connerton said. "It's just a wonderful space."

The building is so new, Connerton quipped that his students would have to take the plastic wrap off the seats prior to settling in.

During a tour of the building Tuesday, Vice President of Administration and Finance James Stakenas said construction crews were working diligently on a punch list of items.

"The building has been turned over to us. We have our occupancy certificate. There are little bits of spackle on the wall that need to be painted; there's places where baseboards have to go in," he said.

Despite the unfinished details, such as an outdoor classroom space that remains under construction and boxes that professors need to unpack, Stakenas said the building is otherwise ready to handle the influx of students.

Physics classes will take place on the first floor. Biology and environmental studies classes will be on the second. Chemistry and psychology classes are taking place on the third level.

The three-story building hosts a variety of laboratories and classroom spaces, including a rooftop greenhouse. In addition to student lounges, the new construction also has study spaces, faculty office suites and research spaces.

"We've never had space for faculty research before. Faculty have always done research on the corner of their desk; in the corner of a lab, in whatever space they could find," Stakenas said. "This building has a modicum of space for every faculty member to have their own unique space for their research."

The state-of-the-art building was also designed with 700 data points, allowing not only for wireless access, but also climate control and the controlled circulation and venting of laboratory air on an hourly basis. Digital panels outside the labs will display which chemicals are in use -- a benefit and a safety precaution.

With the science center coming online, Bowman Hall has been cleared and is being prepared for renovations -- a cost included in the science center's $54 million bond bill. Stakenas said that work has yet to go out to bid, but when it is completed by this time next fall, it will host the visual arts, math and computer science departments.

Also under way is construction on a new Facilities Department building. The old Shapiro & Sons building on Ashland Street has been demolished and the site is being prepared for a new building.

To reach Jennifer Huberdeau, email
jhuberdeau@thetranscript.com.