At today’s groundbreaking ceremony, New College of Florida’s president and faculty members hailed the expansion of the Heiser Natural Sciences Complex as testimony to the College’s excellence in producing scientists, and as a guarantee of continued success.
The $9.7 million project will add a third wing to the Heiser complex, housing labs, classrooms and faculty offices, and increasing space by more than 50 percent. Construction is under way now and is expected to be complete by fall 2017.
In his opening remarks, President Don O’Shea listed measures of that success: New College graduates a greater percentage of science and math majors than almost all Florida colleges, and 15 percent of those graduates go on to receive a doctorate – better than almost all colleges in the United States.
One reason, he said, is the tradition of students and faculty members working closely together, and that requires space for laboratories and collaboration – the core of the new wing’s design.
“This will allow the interdisciplinary approach that is the marrow of New College,” he said.
Biochemistry Professor Katherine Walstrom, chair of the Division of Natural Sciences, thanked her colleagues Sandra Gilchrist, professor of biology, and Paul Scudder, professor of chemistry, for their work on Heiser project proposals. She said the expansion will benefit everyone.
“The new wing will allow us to accommodate new faculty research labs and more teaching labs. It will not only add more space but improve the space we have,” she said.
Meagan Ash, a third-year biology and chemistry student, talked about her research into the effects of sunscreen on coral reef ecology. She said students are excited to be among the first to conduct research in the new building.
“Students who come to New College in the next few years are going to be working in these labs and talking with their professors in these halls,” she said.
Emily Saarinen, a 1997 graduate of New College and now assistant professor of biology and environmental studies, drew laughs from the 60 guests as she shared her perspective.
“Two decades ago, Natural Sciences was housed in two small, low-ceilinged old buildings. The little complex served us well,” she said. “But we outgrew those buildings, and I actually think the it was our sheer intellectual strength that blew the roofs off those buildings!”
“So we were fortunate to receive the Heiser complex 16 years ago. And this building has served us well – but you cannot hold back our intellectual fortitude!” she said.
“This space marks yet another developmental milestone for the College and our students,” she said. “I feel really confident about the about the future of the College and our ability to support and train the next generation of great thinkers.”
Each year, one-quarter to one-third of New College students major in sciences or mathematics – a greater percentage than any other Florida institution other than University of Florida. And more than half of all New College students take at least one science course each year.
The 22,000-square-foot addition will help accommodate that demand. The first floor of the new wing will include the division and chair’s offices, eight faculty offices, a computer sciences reading room, a physics teaching lab with support spaces, and a conference room and large classroom that can be converted to research laboratory space in the future.
The second floor will contain six additional faculty offices, biology and chemistry teaching laboratories as well as three biology research laboratory spaces.
The Heiser complex’s existing two wings were completed in 2000 and comprise about 34,000 square feet of laboratory, classroom and office space.
Construction is funded by the state of Florida, which has so far allocated about $7.9 million to the project. New College has requested a final amount of $1.85 million for the remaining construction, equipment and furniture. If approved by the Florida legislature, it will be available in July 2017. The total project cost is about $9.7 million.
The addition is being designed to obtain LEED Silver sustainability certification, the highest possible level under the project’s budget. Project architects are Harvard Jolly of St. Petersburg and Sarasota. Construction management is by Tandem Construction of Sarasota.
The Heiser complex is named for the late General Rolland V. Heiser, former president of the New College Foundation, whose efforts helped establish a solid financial base for the College.
General Heiser had a distinguished 30-year Army career, serving in Korea, Vietnam and, among other posts, as chief of staff of the U.S. European Command in Germany under Gen. Alexander Haig, who later became U.S. secretary of state and White House chief of staff.
Heiser passed away in June 2016, and the groundbreaking ceremony was scheduled to coincide with a memorial service on campus earlier in the day. Members of the Heiser family attended both the memorial and the groundbreaking.

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