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UW Has Opportunity for Major Engineering Facilities Upgrade, Trustees Told

May 3, 2012

The University of Wyoming has an opportunity for a major facilities upgrade for its College of Engineering and Applied Science to better fulfill the state's ambition for UW to become a "tier one academic and research institution," university trustees were told Thursday.

And UW will seek input from a variety of constituents -- including legislators, the governor's office, alumni, students, employers of UW graduates, industry partners, community colleges and various advisory boards -- in crafting plans for the new and improved facilities.

The Board of Trustees received an outline of initial planning and the process for what's expected to be the biggest capital construction project in UW history.

During its 2012 budget session, the Wyoming State Legislature appropriated $1.15 million to plan for the renovation and expansion of the College of Engineering and Applied Science facilities. Lawmakers also set aside $30 million in state funding, to be matched by $30 million in private donations, as the first step toward funding the project. Anticipating a total project cost of up to $100 million, legislators have directed a plan for College of Engineering facilities to support a "tier one academic and research institution in areas of excellence appropriate for Wyoming."

The College of Engineering and Applied Science now occupies a collection of poorly integrated spaces, including the original 1925 Engineering Building known as the "Sawtooth." Other existing facilities include the 1927 Engineering Building main front, a 1960 west wing, and a major 1980 addition. Some classroom and lab upgrades have taken place in the engineering facilities in recent years, but additional space and renovations are badly needed - especially laboratory space.

For example, according to the report from UW Associate Provost Andy Hansen, a number of current "experimental-oriented" faculty members have no lab space at all. Some engineering teaching labs are 25 percent of needed size, and teaching labs with the newest technology are simply unavailable.

A three-phase flow lab funded by EnCana USA -- a lab unique to UW -- opened in the College of Engineering facilities in 2006. But constructing that lab required taking away half of the Chemical Engineering Unit Operations Lab, and undergraduate enrollment in chemical engineering has jumped by 54 percent since 2006. Overall enrollment in the College of Engineering and Applied Science has risen 22 percent in the past six years.

"Student lab space is a big challenge," Hansen says.

The report also pointed out a number of the region's peer institutions -- including Colorado State University, Colorado University, the University of Utah and Montana State University -- have recently built new engineering facilities. These serve as a key tool in attracting engineering faculty and students.

At UW, identified as areas of excellence or critical needs for the state are: energy; material science; computational fluid-, solid- and geomechanics; cloud and aerosol physics; power transmission; biomedical science and engineering; transportation and infrastructure; water; and robotics and mechatronics.

"Our goals are to strengthen Wyoming's ability to develop its resources, promote technological innovation, and educate the professionals critical to the state's economic development," Hansen says.

To fulfill those objectives, UW has identified a need for two projects: a major renovation and expansion for the College of Engineering and Applied Science; and an Engineering Energy Research Facility, a joint effort involving the college and UW's School of Energy Resources. The next stage of planning for those two projects will be conducted concurrently, on two parallel tracks.

That next stage will begin this summer, with UW seeking broad input from its various constituencies and leadership from the Legislature's Joint Minerals, Business and Economic Development Committee. UW trustees will be asked to select a design architect for the project in July, and development of a proposal with sufficient detail to support further action in the 2013 Legislature is expected.

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