Steady and Ready

Swenson Science Center completed on time despite the pandemic

The new Swenson Science Center features 11 teaching and eight research labs. 

Photo: BRIAN STETHEM '84

The Swenson Science Center is an essential component of Cal Lutheran’s vision to educate future STEM leaders. Fortunately, California officials declared construction of the $34 million facility essential under COVID-19 restrictions.
While the coronavirus crisis upended operations across campus, Swenson stayed on schedule, said Ryan Van Ommeren, associate vice president of Planning and Services.
Construction crews for the 47,000-square-foot, three-story building were practicing social-distancing protocols, including masking up and undergoing health screenings, as early as the end of March.
The coronavirus crisis did produce a silver lining. Jackhammering, concrete removal and grading — accompanied by the steady beep of heavy equipment — took place during finals week, which this spring had to be held remotely. As a result, students and faculty were spared that commotion during exams, Van Ommeren said.
In addition, the construction zone could be expanded, which would have posed access issues had people still been on campus, said Senior Project Manager Valerie Crooks.
Labs and other classrooms are ready for use when the fall semester begins, but under state COVID-19 regulations in effect at CLU Magazine press time, classes must be taught virtually.
While many in the Cal Lutheran community witnessed the construction firsthand or via the on-site webcam, few had seen the interior until Crooks led a tour on a connecting@callutheran webinar July 24.
“This building is science on display,” Crooks likes to say. “There are a lot of advanced engineering and construction techniques.”
The synthetic chemistry research and organic chemistry labs feature centralized vacuum and nitrogen systems to serve each station with a full-view fume hood and bench for air- and moisture-free work.
Even before the walls went up, the utility connections for these state-of-the-art stations had to be laid out, said Crooks, who holds a Master of Science degree in engineering.
The chemistry labs will boast new equipment acquired with a recent $150,000 gift from CLU regent and chemist Arnold Gutierrez. The instruments purchased with this gift will help train students on the digital equipment akin to that used in commercial labs.
A major reason the work progressed so smoothly, Van Ommeren said, came down to Crooks’ unique skill set. “She is literate in scientific equipment and the construction world, able to talk to lab planners and faculty and to inspectors and the construction contractor,” he said.
The dedication ceremony is on hold due to COVID-19 rules prohibiting large gatherings.

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