Western breaks ground on Engineering and Biological Sciences building

Dave Shinall

Gov. Paul Patton used a little red robot with a shovel locked in its two short metal arms to break ground Friday on Western’s $20 million Complex for Engineering and Biological Sciences.

Owensboro senior Jeff Fulkerson built the radio-controlled, battery-powered robot in five weeks. He jockeyed the foot-tall, eight-wheeled device into position and handed the robot’s control transmitter to the governor.

“Once we got that far, I knew it was going to work. It was a great moment,” Fulkerson said.

Construction on the three-story, 76,000-square-foot building on Chestnut Street will begin Sept. 1 and should take about 18 months to complete, according to lead architect John Whitney.

“If everything proceeds according to plan, the building should be done by the first of June 2004, which means that certainly the university will have time to move into the building and get everything up and running to start classes for Aug. 2004,” Whitney said.

The building is part of a $136 million facelift now underway across Western’s 200-acre campus and a two-phase plan to completely overhaul the Ogden College of Science and Engineering.

Phase two of the project remains unfunded, Whitney said, but includes gutting and remodeling Science and Technology Hall, both wings of the Thompson Comples and the historic, but dilapidated, Snell Hall.

“It may even be possible to see the renovations start immediately after the completion of this building,” Whitney said.

The Complex for Engineering and Biological Sciences represents a technological and economic leap for both the university and the state, Patton said.

“It means a dramatic increase in the ability of Western Kentucky University to increase education in the technical fields and will also be a great asset for the industry of this region and the Commonwealth,” he said.

Speaking to an audience of about 200, the governor said the new engineering and science building will help correct more than a century of neglect in Kentucky’s educational progress that began after the Civil War and continued into the 1950s.

The building will house labs and classrooms for Western’s civil, mechanical and electrical engineering programs, as well as microbiology and genetic research labs.

Bardstown senior Roger Greenwell, who is studying recombinant genetics at Western, shared the stage with the governor at the ground breaking.

“Right now, students are doing very well. Several of my friends have been accepted into graduate schools such as Johns Hopkins, North Carolina State and other big schools, and if we can do that now with the facilities, just think of what’s going to happen when we have these more advanced facilities and bigger labs,” Greenwell said.

President Gary Ransdell said the building was Western’s top construction priority when seeking funding from the 2000 General Assembly.

“The Phase II renovations will be our top priority in the 2004 session,” Ransdell said.