A secret donor has offered a gift of $13 million to make Buena Vista University's dream of a state-of-the-art Science Center become a reality. Ground will be broken as early as October for the most expensive project in BVU history.
Just one catch.
The massive anonymous gift comes with a "challenge" attached, university President Fred Moore explains. BVU must raise the other $13 million of the project's cost, all from private philanthropic sources, by September 30 - or forfeit the entire gift. The challenge also demands that BVU break ground within 60 days of completing the campaign.
"It is a challenge, and it is indeed a stiff challenge," Moore said in a press conference Thursday. "Basically, we had to raise a million dollars a month."
The BVU Board of Trustees met in special session last fall and formally accepted the challenge.
So far, the university is on pace for success. With 25 individuals and foundations agreeing to make lead contributions, and an assist of federal funds through the work of Congressman Tom Latham, only $4.2 million now remains to be raised by September. While the school must still raise more money more quickly than it ever has before, Moore predicts it will be done.
"This is a very significant day in the life of Buena Vista University... We are confident that we will break ground in the fall of this year, and be ready for students to occupy the new Science Center by the 2004-2005 academic year," he said.
The $13 million donor must remain unnamed, but that secret will be revealed later as the project becomes a reality, Moore said.
BVU also unveiled the architectural plans for the $27 million project this week for the first time.
They reveal a building of around 70,000 square feet, to be located just west of the current Esthelle Siebens Science Center. The two-story building will be flanked with massive arched windows, in keeping with the "arch" architectural theme pursued across the campus. The main entry will feature a curving glass-walled rotunda, leading into a "Science Avenue" that will allow visitors to peruse scientific displays and see inside the laboratories where the students will be conducting
Science Center / See Back
their research. The two-story atrium corridor of Science Avenue will run the length of the building, lit by skylights, and terminate in a glass greenhouse attached to the rear of the building.
The new Science Center will add seven classrooms varying in size up to 84 students, plus 18 laboratories, three research areas, informal study areas and offices for 24 department staff members.
The total cost includes $18 million for estimated construction costs, an $8 million endowment to operate the building, and $1 million in planning cost, which was funded by an anonymous donor's million-dollar gift in early 2000.
BVU hired the firm BWBR of St. Paul, Minn. to design the structure.
The new science center is expected to be a flagship facility among private institutions in this region that will help solidify the position of the School of Science as one of BVU's signature programs.
A new science center at Buena Vista was first identified as a critical need in the university's 1995 strategic plan.
The current Estelle Siebens Science Center was a modern facility when it was built in 1969, but the evolution of science education has moved so rapidly that the facility can no longer be cost-effectively adapted to meet the educational demands of today and the future, according to the BVU faculty.
"It is a challenge to raise these kinds of funds, but it is easy to advocate for our outstanding science faculty," Moore said. "We have a first-rate faculty in our science department, and now they will have a first-rate facility to teach in."
Currently, students are reduced to conducting important exercises like genetic experiments in spaces that amount to converted storage closets.
"A new science center will allow BVU to continue its legacy of inspiring enlightenment and discovery," says Dr. Ken Schweller, dean of the School of Science and professor of computer science and psychology. "Much of what it means to be a scientist is learned through role-modeling and mentoring - students need a place to practice being scientists."
With the nation facing a growing shortage of scientists and science educators, it falls to higher education programs like those in the School of Science at BVU to provide the best training possible for those who will be teaching science and math to future generations.
"Regardless of our backgrounds or professions, the quality of science education has an impact on all of us," President Moore points out. "Science reaches into almost every facet of our daily lives, from the things we take for granted such as computers, to breakthroughs in finding cures for life-threatening diseases."
The design of the proposed facility will combine BVU's five interdisciplinary fields of science (biology, chemistry, computer science, mathematics and physics) into one building, fostering collaboration among these disciplines as well as between students and faculty.
Unique features include flexible furnishings that will allow for flexible teaching and research situations well into the future, a small room where a boat will be kept to take students onto the nearby lake for environmental and water quality researching, capabilities for hosting seminars, and spaces where students and faculty can interact informally outside the classroom and areas to put students' science projects on display. "These are the kind of places where the all-important informal mentoring takes place. Those interactions are where the seeds of inspiration are planted,' Schweller said.
"This new science center will represent an investment in the future of Iowa and this region," says Moore. "Our citizens depend on BVU to train math and science teachers, and society relies on the quality of education our graduates receive in the allied health professions and in scientific exploration to master the challenges of today and tomorrow."
With the new facilities, BVU will be able to send more students into the K-12 classrooms of the area to interact with younger people, and more classes from local schools will be able to visit the BVU science fields. Hosting events like science camps is another possibility.
The announcement marks "a historic day in the history of BVU," suggests Karen Haberslabben, vice president for academic affairs. "We are taking an enormous step forward today."
Such an imaginative structure will not only hold learning, but a little magic, she said, which is part of what science is all about.
"Students will be scientists while they are learning and researching. The mystery and the magic come together while students and faculty are interacting."
The building will make Buena Vista the "hub" of scientific efforts for the entire region, she said, from expanding the university's watershed efforts on lake water quality studies, to emerging fields like agricultural research into tissue cultures and gene cloning.
"You learn science best by doing science," Moore added.
Virtually all students of BVU will be involved in taking classes in one or more of the disciplines housed in the new building, and the roughly 200 science majors will be entrenched in its possibilities constantly. The university also predicts accelerated growth in its science major fields once the new facility is on-line.
Moore said it will take continued support from the community and alumni to meet the last stages of the financial challenge to build the Science Center.
"It will take many hands, but it is imminently do-able," he said.
Lead donors to date include:
The Bright Foundation
Marc Brinkmeyer '68 and Vicki Riga
Tim Brown and John '83 Brown - Central Bank
The Roy J. Carver Charitable Trust
Dr. E. Wayne '44 and Wendy Cooley
Glenn and Viola DeStigter
James '62 and Gretchen Haahr
Don and Candace Packard Lambie
Warren and Linda Mack
Drs. Paul and Vivian '59 McCorkle
Fred and Susan Moore
Cordell '63 and Sandra Peterson
Dr. Kelvin '36 and Marian Pierce
Bernie '49 and Lois '50 Saggau
Bernadine Sikorski and Timothy Reecht
Wrede and Barbara Smith
Norman Swanson '51
The campaign requires BVU to secure more philanthropic commitments within 13 months than any other multiple-year fundraising effort in the University's 110-year history.
At $27 million, the project exceeds the $10 million cost of building the BVU Siebens Forum in the late 1980s and the $9.5 Lamberti Recreation Center project completed in 2001.
The Esthelle Siebens Science Center building will be retained and renovated for classrooms, studio and office needs for several non-science disciplines. There is also an options of adding a physical connection between the two buildings at a later date.Some upgrades are likely also for Smith Hall, the original campus science building, after the completion of the new Science Center.