A $35 million renovation of the Durham Science Center at the University of Nebraska at Omaha is set to begin in March.
Despite the price tag, the two-year project involves improvements that will likely go unnoticed once work is finished.
Sacha Kopp, senior vice chancellor for academic affairs at UNO, said the renovation will essentially be an infrastructure upgrade to a building that has seen only minor touch-ups since it opened in 1987. The building — located near the northwest edge of the north campus — houses several academic departments including chemistry, mathematics, physics and geology.
Kopp said that a lot of the classrooms will be refreshed with new technology and that new heating, ventilation and air conditioning units will be installed. According to documents presented to the University of Nebraska Board of Regents earlier this month, electrical, mechanical and plumbing upgrades also will be made.
“It’s kind of like rewiring your house” in that the majority of improvements, while important, will likely not be noticeable, Kopp said.
Private donations will cover $20 million of the renovation project’s cost, according to the document presented to regents. The remaining $15 million will come from the state, thanks to a bill passed by the Nebraska Legislature to help NU tackle an $800 million backlog in building maintenance projects. The bill was signed into law in April.
Some of the most apparent changes will come in the classrooms. Kopp said the university wants to restructure classrooms to allow more collaboration and socialization among students.
“We like our students to be working together on projects,” he said. “In the old days, we would attend class in a lecture hall. We would face the front, and there would be this wise person teaching on a stage. We’d listen and write down what they had to say. The nature of teaching has changed, and we actually value hands-on instruction in our classes now.”
By revamping the classrooms to foster a more active learning environment, Kopp said students will help each other improve by asking questions that encourage problem solving and critical thinking.
“As much as possible, we try to structure our classroom experience around answering problems,” he said.
The renovations will extend to the center’s atrium area. Kopp said that area is currently not conducive to socialization.
“We’re hoping to really repurpose and reshape that,” he said.
While the upgrades are expected to largely go unnoticed, they will occur in one of the most active buildings on UNO’s campus. According to Kopp, up to 5,000 students per semester take at least one class at the science center.