It was not just College officials who officially broke ground at the site of the future STEM building, which will house the biomedical engineering, computer science and mechanical engineering departments, on Tuesday, July 7 on Quimby’s Prairie. Miniature robots with shovels helped perform the honors.
The 89,000-square-foot building, as well as a 26,300-square-foot chemistry addition to the Science Complex, will increase the number of STEM classrooms at the College by 60 percent, according to Dave Muha, the College’s spokesman.
“We’ve been talking about this for two years now,” Muha said, “so it’s exciting to see it finally happening.”
The cost of the project totals $75.4 million, $40 million of which came from the Building Our Future Bond Act, while $1 million is coming from the New Jersey Higher Education Technology Infrastructure Fund. The College is also funding the project with $2 million from its new fundraising campaign.
“Making investments like this makes a direct investment in the state of New Jersey,” State Senate President Stephen Sweeney said before the groundbreaking. “When we’re done, we have to go back and talk to the voters again because this initiative is welcomed, but wasn’t enough.”
Sweeney believes projects like this one will encourage more students to attend college in-state, rather than seeking STEM programs at other universities.
“This project embodies the type of investment strategy that recognizes the intersection of education, progress in technology and economic growth,” he said, according to the event press release. “It is important that government, our colleges and universities, and the private sector work together to make the most of our skills and resources. The bond funding is helping to make this happen.”
Sweeney, along with Student Government President Casey Dowling, Board of Trustees Chair Jorge Caballero and the College’s President R. Barbara Gitenstein shoveled dirt away from the site, marking the official start of construction.
Miniature Nao robots also helped with the groundbreaking, toting tiny shovels. Nao is a humanoid robot about two feet tall, developed by the French company Aldebaran Robotics.
The new STEM building will include a robotics lab, where students can design and build robots like the ones demonstrated at the groundbreaking. The Robotics Club, headed by Dean of Engineering Steven Schreiner, was officially recognized by Student Government in November 2014.
Besides a robotics lab, the new STEM building is also set to feature thermo-fluids and biosafety level-2 testing labs, a design studio and a metal fabrications and assembly workshop. A two-story wing connecting the STEM building and Biology Building will feature a cafe, complete with tables and seating.
The chemistry addition will house a multidisciplinary “super” laboratory suite with two organic chemistry labs, storage rooms, a prep lab and study spaces.
“We’re not building this building because we hope to have good STEM programs,” Gitenstein said. “We’re building on success here and we’re giving these already-strong programs the support and facilities they need and deserve so we can continue to serve our state’s economic workforce needs.”
The project’s completion is slated for August 2017.
*This story was originally published in The Signal.