ST. PETERSBURG — For years, Eckerd College has tinkered with its science labs. A fix here, a fix there. Mostly cosmetic changes. Space is still limited, and hot water is inconsistent in the biology lab.
"If you picture what a kitchen in a house would have looked like 40 to 50 years ago, and supposed if you have not replaced any of the appliances in the kitchen, it's like that," said Denise Flaherty, a biology professor.
That will change soon, thanks to a fundraising effort that raised $82.7 million for the college this year and will help build a new Center for Molecular and Life Sciences.
The building will house new state-of-the art classroom, lab and conference spaces for students taking biology, chemistry and biochemistry programs. Estimated to cost $25 million, officials hope to open the 55,000-square-foot facility by the fall of 2012.
"I have been waiting for this day for a long time," said David Grove, a chemistry professor who has taught at Eckerd for 23 years. "The new building will change the way I teach my courses, especially in the lab. … There will be a lab dedicated to student-faculty research, so we can do more of that with more students."
Eckerd College president Donald Eastman added in a written statement: "Propelled by the new Center for Molecular and Life Sciences, increasing applications will allow us to increase our selectivity. Many science students pursue additional majors or change disciplines when they arrive, so all of our academic programs will benefit."
$82.7 million raised
Eckerd, a private liberal arts college with about 1,800 students, launched its campaign in 2006 with a $25 million donation from Miles C. Collier, chairman of the board of trustees. In November 2008, the college raised its original goal of $75 million to $80 million and exceeded it by more than a $1 million when the campaign wrapped up earlier this year.
In addition to the new center, the money raised from the campaign will increase scholarship funding, help send more students on programs to study abroad, hire more professors and undertake some construction projects.
"I'm pleased with the campaign," Eastman said.
Just a decade ago, the college struggled with its finances and saw its endowment funds shrink by 60 percent. Eastman was hired in 2001 to tackle the mess. Longtime staffers said he helped placed the college back on track.
"At the time, I felt unsure about the long-term future of the college, given its small endowment and its finances," Grove said. "So we've come a long way, and I give that credit to Don Eastman."