Without much in the way of fanfare Friday morning -- the pitfalls of construction during the winter months -- Nebraska Wesleyan University celebrated the “topping out” of a new classroom and laboratory building.
The arctic blast sweeping across the state this week couldn’t chill the liberal arts college’s excitement about the visible progress on the 80,000-square-foot Duane W. Acklie Hall of Science since construction began last spring.
President Fred Ohles said as construction costs on the $29 million building came in under original projections, Nebraska Wesleyan will maximize its science education offerings with $1 million of new equipment and furnishings.
The creative “workarounds” science faculty have employed in the 1960s-era Olin Hall -- extension cords wired through ceiling tiles, or rearranging classrooms to incorporate basic scientific instruments, for example -- have worked to date, he added.
“We’ve got excellent teaching going on now, but those workarounds take energy and time and effort that won’t be necessary in this building,” Ohles said.
Nebraska Wesleyan has made a conscience effort to create a clean, modern learning space for students, Ohles said, contemplating a range of details from how audio-visual capabilities will be integrated to how continuously poured epoxy floors in wet labs will make the building more durable.
“We can build the building we wanted and not cut corners," Ohles said.
Members of the university’s board, gathered on campus for their winter meeting, were given a brief tour of the construction site Friday morning -- more a short respite from the cold -- as the crew from Sampson Construction prepared to raise the final steel beam.
With work moving inside, biology classrooms and labs will begin taking shape on the first floor of the building. Psychology and other sciences will find their homes on the second floor, and the chemistry department will find a new perch overlooking campus from the third floor.
Mixed in among the classrooms on the second floor will be spaces for students to study alone or with peers. A coffee shop resembling a similar area in the basement of the university’s student center will be a focal point.
First announced as a $27 million privately financed project, the actual cost of construction and furnishing the new building will be closer to $29 million, spokeswoman Sara Olson said.
More than $28 million has been raised to date to support construction and equipping the new science building, the first academic building to be constructed at NWU since 1981, as the university continues a broader $62 million capital campaign called Bold Designs.
Launched in September, the fundraising effort will provide scholarships to students and added support for faculty, while also funding new internships and study abroad opportunities, service learning and bolster NWU’s athletic coaching staffs, Olson said.
As a crane pulled the final beam from its resting place on the ground high in the sky, a frigid wind rippled three flags draped over the iron, the stars and stripes, a black and gold banner emblazoned with a Prairie Wolf, NWU’s mascot, and the company logo of Sampson Construction, the general contractor on the project.
Mounted atop the beam was a small evergreen tree, a practice of ironworkers dating back centuries believed to signal a safe construction process or to show reverence for the power of nature over the works of man.
Ninety seconds after it was lifted skyward, the beam was hoisted into place by a pair of waiting construction workers. A drone buzzed overhead capturing the scene for posterity as the small crowd, gathered on the frozen surface of a future parking lot below, applauded.