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Terry, one of the construction workers working on the Science A construction project.
Bonnie Chuong/the Gauntlet

Science A construction causes disruption

Phase one of project to be finished by late fall 2012

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Students travelling between MacHall and Science Theatres are no longer able to cut through Science A. The building is now under construction -- an inconvenience when it is -30.

"Often with construction, there's a little bit of short-term pain now, but I think it's going to be some really long-term gain," said Students' Union president Dylan Jones, who toured Science A before fall session exams.

Phase one of Science A is due to be completed in late fall 2012, and phase two, which includes the addition of a new floor to the building, will move forward when funding is available.

The provincial government is funding both phases. The current costs of phase one include $14.75 million for construction costs and $19 million for project costs, split between the Infrastructure Maintenance Program and Energy Environment Experiential Learning grants. Project costs include design, project management, services such as moving, furnishings and equipment.

Director of campus planning Jon Greggs said, "phase one work is all stand alone because there's probably going to be a period of time before we get the funding for phase two."

There will be a net gain of eight classrooms. Former labs have already been moved into the new eeel building where they are physically larger, giving each student 4 metres of work room, up from 2.5 metres. The new labs give everyone access to natural light and increase the access to fume hoods, electrical power networking, safety appliances and equipment.

Although a separate project, the greenhouses that were destroyed in a hailstorm in 2010 are being fixed too.

"They're almost done, they have all the replacement glass, which has a film on it now for shatter resistance," said Greggs. All of the glass has been replaced, and they're starting to work on the mechanical systems.

Science A was designed in the 1950s and built in the early 1960s, with only a few modifications over the years. Most of the building is original and needs to be updated to meet the current building codes.

"Science A and the Administration building, which used to be called the Arts building, are the two original buildings on campus," said Greggs. "In 1960 the university campus was several kilometres from any other construction and it was basically a bare field as far as you can see, with two buildings stuck on it."

Science A was not intended to be the crowded walking link connecting MacHall and science theatres. Surveyors have counted approximately 12,000 people walking through Science A in a nine-hour workday.

Because Science A was built in the 1960s, there was asbestos in it.

"It's all been removed now," said Greggs. "Where it was used, call it 'encapsulated applications', there was never any risk to people in the building."

Asbestos is a fire resistant mineral that was used a lot during the 1950s and '60s. One of its main uses was insulation around pipes.

It is a fibrous material, which is why it causes serious illness upon inhalation, such as lung cancer.

In Science A it was in the countertops for the labs, which made them "almost indestructible," and in the panels above the doors, among other places. There wasn't all that much asbestos in Science A, and the current standard is to remove all asbestos from a building when the opportunity presents itself because it causes problems when a building is finally torn down.

Both Greggs and Jones report no major issues or complaints from the university community regarding the construction.

However, some students have experienced inconveniences.

Third-year development studies student Aasa Marshall had a block week class in Science A.

"It was distracting with all the noise going on, banging and scraping, and one day we had no power in our classroom and no lights so they tried to supplement it with an industrial light bulb. That blinded everyone."

No electricity also meant no power for students' laptops the entire morning, which hindered note-taking for students.

"It just seems silly when there are probably hundreds of open classrooms. I am not sure why they put us in the middle of a construction zone," said Marshall. "It was a bit ridiculous that we were in there in the first place."

Greggs commented that it is quite normal to have construction in occupied buildings.

"The construction team has made great effort to minimize daytime noise. The same team did the work in the engineering complex through 2009-2011 so they are very familiar with working on the campus, with the academic schedule and in an occupied building," said Greggs.

The construction team does the noisiest construction after the regular university workday and warns people about possible disruptions.

"The construction is concentrated at one end of the building so it can proceed without vacating the entire building. The university also does not have sufficient swing space to remove all activities to other locations, although a great deal has been relocated," said Greggs.

Some activity in Science A will be moved as new spaces, such as EEEL, are finished. The university is also trying to phase out the use of trailers as classrooms with this construction.

"There is almost always construction in progress somewhere on the campus. At present we have other projects underway, including in Earth Science, Biological Sciences, the Education Tower, MacEwan Student Centre and over at the Foothills Campus," said Greggs.

Fall semester exams were held in Science A, but the Registrar will avoid scheduling winter exams in Science A.

"I was personally a little bit concerned at the beginning because they were starting this construction during winter exam period, so I got in contact with the people doing it and reiterated how important it is to have no noise during exams," said Jones.

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