Nfld. & Labrador

Take a tour of Memorial University's new science and engineering building

Six years after construction began, students at Memorial University are finally getting ready to enter the school's new core science and engineering building.

$325-million project took six years to complete

Memorial University's new core science building will open for the fall 2021 semester. (Emma Grunwald/CBC)

Memorial University's new core science building will open in a matter of weeks, six years after builders broke ground on the $325-million project.

Work on the hulking, ice-white structure in St. John's started in late 2015. After a number of delays, including a stop-work order over physical distancing during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, the building is set to welcome students for the fall semester.

Reporters were among the first to see the near-finished building last week, so let's take you inside.

The building has a mainly white interior, with walls of glass to give students wide views while they work. (Emma Grunwald/CBC)

The five-storey building covers about 480,000 square feet. It features 190 laboratory fume hoods, 250 sinks and over three kilometres of countertop for students and faculty to use in experiments.

Mark Abrahams, MUN's academic vice-president, has been involved with the project for over a decade. He called working on the building "a once-in-a-career opportunity."

"You're trying to describe what goes on in science for the next 50 to 100 years," Abrahams said. 

"[The old building] was designed around a time when we really didn't have any understanding of the nature of science, what science was going to do over the next 50 years. So our challenge in designing this building was to make it as flexible and futureproof as possible."

Mark Abrahams, MUN's academic vice-president, says the building has been designed to last for 50 to 100 years. (Emma Grunwald/CBC)

The building will replace the school's old science building, which opened in 1963. The old building will likely be torn down in time, according to Abrahams.

According to biochemistry professor Sherri Christian, the new space will allow safer labs that are more interactive and free-flowing.

The science building houses two new chemistry labs for first-year students, and will see more than 1,200 bodies pass through its doors per week.

The other lab features walls made entirely of glass, granting students a wide view of Pippy Park in St. John's.

The new first-year chemistry labs will see about 1,200 students pass through them per week. (Emma Grunwald/CBC)

"This building is going to transform really what we do at Memorial," said Travis Fridgen, the school's acting dean of science.

"It's going to allow us to continue to attract and retain the best and brightest researchers, faculty members who are going to teach the students of NL.… It's really going to be a lot of fun."

The large crate sitting in the atrium holds a blue whale skull, which will hang from the ceiling. (Emma Grunwald/CBC)

The building's five storeys and splitting hallways are joined together by two large atriums, dubbed the Shoreline and Blue Whale atriums.

The latter atrium received its name due to the centrepiece that will float from the 98-foot high ceiling — a skull of a blue whale that beached on Newfoundland's west coast in 2014.

The skull was so big, part of the atrium had to be built around the whale's storage box so it could fit in the room later.

"It's also meant to be inspirational. This is a publicly funded building. We want people to come into this building, we want people to realize what opportunities exist ... and get excited about it," Abrahams said.

WATCH | Have a look inside the MUN science building on Here & Now (Video starts at 17:16):

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Ted Blades

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