Wilkes breaks ground for new science building

Phat Nguyen, News Editor

President Tim Gilmour was revealed as the mystery excavator for the groundbreaking kick-off March 1.

Equipped with a shovel used in the Stark Learning Center’s 1956 opening, the president was the first to remove dirt for Wilkes University’s new $35 million science project.

The new building will house Wilkes’ biology and health sciences, chemistry and engineering programs.

The 72,500-square-foot building is scheduled to open in the fall of 2013. It is located between the Stark Learning Center and Conyngham Hall.

Gilmour believes that the building will bring not only state-of-the-art collaborative learning spaces to the campus, but also an enhanced pursuit of excellence in science education.

“This greatly increases our ability to attract the best and brightest students every year,” said Gilmour.

Gilmour hopes the new building will open new opportunities for medical and other research with partners such as the Commonwealth Medical College in Scranton and regional health care organizations like Geisinger Health System.

“The building will contribute to the economic development of the region, but it is for our students first and foremost,” Gilmour said.

The project is funded through private financing, philanthropy and government grants.

Jack Miller, the chair of Wilkes Board of Trustees, announced the public phase of “Achieving Our Destiny,” a $20 million fundraising campaign. The campaign has already raised $10.4 million towards its goal.

Miller believes the science building will ensure another decade of extraordinary success.

“Wilkes is at a tipping point and this building will put us over the top,” Miller said.

The Institute for Public Policy and Economic Development estimates the building’s annual economic impact at $5.8 million from new jobs and scientific research.

The 18-month construction period will generate $20.5 million in Luzerne County and $46.8 million in Pennsylvania.

Trustee member Michael Mahoney serves as chair of the campaign, with Hedy Wrightson Rittenmeyer and John Cefaly as co-chairs. Frank M. Henry and William B. Sordoni are honorary chairs.

The campaign’s leadership donors played a major role in securing the more than half of its $20 million goal.

Wilkes plans to use tax-exempt bonds to finance the remaining $15 million.

State Sen. John Yudichak, state Rep. Eddie Day Pashinski and Wilkes-Barre Mayor Tom Leighton were all in attendance and helped secure $1 million from the Pennsylvania Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program and $2 million from Local Share Assessment Fund, gaming funds.

Yudichak also spoke before the groundbreaking events stating his pleasure with the SHE building.

“Wilkes and president Gilmour have been unremitting in their quest to establish the university as a regional, educational and economic asset,” Yudichak said. “Wilkes is boldly charging into science and research.”

He went on to quote former US president John F. Kennedy saying, ‘If history teaches us anything, it is that man in his quest for knowledge, is determined and cannot be deterred.’

Yudichak then linked Wilkes’ success as a leader in science to attract pharmaceutical giant CVS Caremark to the area.

The project creates 18-months of ongoing construction and fences off half of the university’s ‘greenway,’ however, student government president William Eggleston believes the barriers and loud construction will be worth it.

“Over the next few semesters, we’ll encounter some noises and fences, but it’ll all be worth it, because being Colonel means making these sacrifices for students who will follow in our footsteps, so they can truly achieve greatness,” Eggleston said.