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Whitworth to mark ground-breaking on $32 million science building Nov. 12

November 9, 2009
Critically needed science facility expected to open fall 2011

Whitworth University is taking a major step forward in ensuring the continued success of its thriving science program as construction begins on a new $32 million biology/chemistry building this month. The science center will be the first phase of a planned $53 million project to revamp the university's science facilities in response to a 50 percent increase in the number of science majors in recent years.

A ground-breaking ceremony, which will be open to the public, will be held on Thursday, Nov. 12, at 1 p.m. at the project site, which is located on the north end of campus, just west of the Eric Johnston Science Center. State and local officials, representatives from Spokane-area businesses, and friends and supporters of the university are expected to attend.

The three-story, 63,000-square-foot structure, which primarily will house Whitworth's biology and chemistry departments, will be the most expensive building in school history. It will feature state-of-the-art laboratories and instrumentation, animal-research facilities, and classrooms that can be converted to labs to meet the university's science and classroom needs for the next 20 years.

By implementing a number of sustainable practices in the construction and operation of the building, Whitworth has designed the facility to meet the Green Building Council's LEED Silver Certification. An example of the design’s green emphasis is a skylight that will flood the building, including the circulation atrium, with maximum natural light. Other sustainable options include rainwater collection for landscape irrigation, steam or geothermal heating, energy-efficient air-handling, and the use of locally produced building materials.

Spokane-based Bouten Construction Co. is the contractor for the project, which was designed by Seattle-based Miller Hull Partnership LLP. The project will have an estimated economic impact of $100 million on the Spokane area at a time when a number of other big construction projects in the community have been put on hold due to the slumping economy. The building is slated to open in late summer or early fall 2011.

Plans call for an estimated $16 million second phase of the project, which would involve building a 16,000-square-foot addition to the north end of the Eric Johnston Science Center. The rest of the building also would be remodeled.

Whitworth's biology, chemistry and physics departments currently are housed in the Johnston Center, which opened in 1966. The physics department will remain in the Johnston Center after the new building is completed, and the math and computer science department, which is currently in the Lindaman Center, will move in to the vacated space in Johnston, as will the health sciences department.

Whitworth is pursuing this substantial project partly because recent enrollment growth in its science programs has put significant strain on its science infrastructure. The number of science majors has grown from 420 to 632 in the last decade. Completion of the project also will enable Whitworth to continue to compete for high-caliber students against regional peers that have built new science facilities within the past 10 years.

In a larger context, by investing in its science programs, Whitworth seeks to help meet increasingly urgent local, regional, and national demands for graduates in science, engineering and education fields.

Locally, the continued strength of Spokane's economy depends on a highly trained and adaptive workforce, and the city is investing in institutions that will inspire a new wave of science and engineering entrepreneurs. In Washington state, employers are having to import graduates with science degrees because the state isn't producing enough of them. As a result, state leaders are calling for 8,000 more in-state graduates in science-related fields by 2010 and 10,000 more by 2020 to fill the jobs that are driving its economy. And on a national scale, the U.S. must make major investments in its science infrastructure to be able to continue to compete in the global economy.

Two weeks ago, President Obama signed into law the Energy and Water Appropriations Bill, in which U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris-Rogers was able to secure $300,000 for the new science building. Also, U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell is supporting a pending $100,000 appropriation in the Senate's fiscal year 2010 Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill.

"We're enormously grateful for the support of our congressional delegation in securing a federal appropriation for this project, which is critically important for Whitworth and also for our region, state and nation," says Whitworth Vice President for Finance and Administration Brian Benzel. "Our nation's role in the global economy depends on expanding the pipeline of scientists and engineers to sustain a fertile environment for innovation, discovery and service. Representative McMorris-Rodgers and Senator Cantwell recognize that Whitworth is meeting this need by educating a growing number of qualified and urgently needed doctors, nurses, scientists, engineers and science educators."

Whitworth is paying for the project through a combination of donations, government funds, and a bond issue. The university has raised $3.6 million so far and needs to raise additional funds in excess of $5 million before fund-raising for phase one is completed. To learn more about the project and to make a donation, please visit

Located in Spokane, Wash., Whitworth is a private liberal arts university affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (USA). The university, which has an enrollment of 2,700 students, offers 55 undergraduate and graduate degree programs.


Nancy Rau, associate director of donor relations & special events, Whitworth University, (509) 777-4250 or

Greg Orwig, director of university communications, Whitworth University, (509) 777-4580 or