MODESTO -- MODESTO -- While acres of subdivisions lay fallow over the last few years, contractors poured and pounded away at Modesto Junior College. The centerpiece of this bond-fed building boom, a $70 million science center, will open at least in part next spring on the college's West Campus.
The four-story building, faced in slate and stone, includes a massive open lobby that will house the Great Valley Museum. An observatory tops a cylindrical building angled off one side, housing a 26-inch telescope for which the 109,000-square-foot building was
built on a no-jiggle foundation poured 60 feet deep.
State-of-art chemistry, physics, biology and anatomy labs, smart classrooms, and acoustically contoured lecture halls will replace cramped quarters with fewer safety features. Science class storage needs, from caustic chemicals to cadavers, were mapped out with cautionary zeal. Back-up generators double-check the cooling and venting systems.
Mark Newton, Kitchell project manager, pointed out the building's conservation measures Wednesday. A roof garden will shade the first story and be viewable from the second. Solar panels will line a section of the upper roof. Wide walkways run along the outside, saving heating and cooling costs.
"This really over the top. This will be the showplace of the Central Valley," said YCCD Chancellor Joan Smith while walking through the facility.
The three-year project has roughly six months to go. Hard hat-topped visitors traversed rooms with stubs where lab sinks will sit and traipsed up a plywood-topped circular stairway where a sculpture of DNA will rise.
At the building's front, a large planetarium beckons, surrounded by curved cement benches incised with names like physicist Albert Einstein and chemist Vladimir Markovnikov, chosen by faculty in the sciences.
Outside, an exuberant water fountain bursts and spits with seemingly random abandon. Inside the circular hall, a first-in-the-nation Zeiss star projector will wow up to 127 viewers at once.
That's two full school bus loads of budding young scientists, Smith points out.
"People sometimes say that buildings don't matter, but they really do," she said. Smith's vision for the center is to inspire not only current students, but generations of young scientists to come.
"This building has a hundred-year life span. Our tax dollars are going to a good space," Smith said.
The science center and other buildings built on the YCCD campuses since 2005 owe their existence to a $326 million bond measure passed by YCCD voters in 2004. The irony of magnificent makeovers, made possible with local money, while state funding shrivels to run the classes is not lost on Smith, who says her job is to find the dollars to fill the buildings.
Since 2007, the district has gone from $115 million in revenue to $79 million while demand has soared for its services. If Proposition 30 fails on Nov. 6, the YCCD will lose $5 million more, Smith said.
"Hopefully, we'll not be in crisis 100 years from now," she said. "This is the future of higher education for the valley."
Modesto Bee education reporter Nan Austin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2339.