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New place for science at Stanislaus State

TURLOCK -- Many students can't stand it. Others are mortally afraid of it. It's their least favorite subject.

With the unveiling of a $55 million cutting-edge science building, officials at California State University, Stanislaus, hope to separate science from the fear and panic that can accompany it.

"I think the perception is that science is so difficult that only the intelligent sorts can do it. People think that it's more difficult than it is," said Jane Bruner, assistant to the dean of the College of Natural Sciences.

The Nora and Hashem Naraghi Hall of Science opened to students this month after two years of construction and more than a decade of planning. The three-story building boasts 25 labs, four classrooms, 58 faculty and department offices, an observatory, student computer lab, aquarium and complex for test animals.

Classrooms and labs are equipped with laptops and the hall is the first classroom building to offer wireless capability.

The 110,000-square-foot facility dwarfs the former 51,000-square-foot science building and offers modern technology and lab space never before seen on campus. The facility rivals those at the University of California at Berkeley, students and faculty said.

Technology also is first-rate. For example, faculty members can hook up cameras to their microscopes during demonstrations or lectures so students can see what the professor is viewing or dissecting, Bruner said. As former acting dean of the department, Bruner oversaw much of the building work.

"This is so much better. It's like fresh air," said Elisa Navarette, who's pursuing a master's in ecology and sustainability. Navarette, 31, took classes in the old science building and helped professors move into the new hall. "Our other buildings are so far behind. ... It will better prepare people."

While giving the structure an iconic feel, the dark gray metal siding on the exterior is misleading. Once inside, students are greeted by white walls with light gray, blue and green accents in stairwells and hallways. Labs showcase the familiar black slate countertops and light maple cabinetry. Natural light shines through rows of windows.

"We wanted to make (the inside) student-friendly so they'd want to spend time here," Bruner said.

Stanislaus State is not known for its science programs; officials hope the new building will help change that.

The science hall coincides with a new science college. Stanislaus State reorganized its three colleges into six last year, establishing the College of Natural Sciences. Dean Roger McNeil moved over from Louisiana State University to beef up the science program.

"We haven't been full-fledged. We had the quality faculty. Now we have good teaching, good equipment and good context. We're going to substantially increase our quality offerings," President Hamid Shirvani said.

He views the building as "the most impressive, sophisticated undergraduate science teaching center" from Fresno to Sacramento with the exception of the one at the University of California at Merced, which is geared more toward research.

Beyond Stanislaus State students, administrators hope the science hall becomes a commu-nity asset -- through middle and high school field trips, training for local teachers and public events.

The building was funded through state construction bonds passed by voters in 2002 and 2006. About $47 million went toward construction and $8 million for furniture and equipment. Ongoing operating costs will come out of the university's general fund.

The most recent campus construction was finished in March 2003 when the Bernell and Flora Snider Recital Hall opened.

The old science building will be used for classroom space after it undergoes a retrofit to make it earthquake sturdy. The biology, chemistry, physics, geology and astronomy departments will call Naraghi Hall home.

Administrators are pursuing certification as a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design building. For example, wood cabinets were specially coated so that in the event of a fire, they won't emit chemicals dangerous to the environment, Bruner said.

The building was named after late farmer and developer, Hashem Naraghi, and his wife, Nora, after a $2 million donation to the university's endowment in 2006.

Bee staff writer Michelle Hatfield can be reached at mhatfield@modbee.com or 578-2339.

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