Science Building 1 as it stands today. Alex Wittwer/PSU Vanguard

PSU seeks to remodel building for STEM students

University continues city building efforts with new money for Science Building One

Portland State received a $4.5 million pledge toward its effort to renovate Science Building One (SB1), built in 1967 and located on SW Mill Street.

According to a PSU press release, Christine and David Vernier, founders of Vernier Software & Technology in Beaverton pledged the amount to the Let Knowledge Serve campaign. The PSU Foundation started the campaign, a $300 million fundraising initiative, in 2018. The campaign supports high-priority projects and initiatives across the university.

Interim President Stephen Percy said in a Jan. 31 press conference, “[The building] needs a major renovation to advance our capacity to stay at a high level quality of teaching in the sciences.” 

This donation represents 60% of the $8 million the university needs to qualify for a state borrowing program. Doing so would allow the university to access an additional $75 million to complete the science building update. 

“In any project…we are kind of required to bring some money to the table, and we don’t want to take student tuition dollars, so we are doing private [funding],” Percy said.

The proposal for funding is currently pending approval by the state legislature. The 2020 Public University Capital Recommendations, which is endorsed by Oregon’s Higher Education Coordinating Commission, could possibly distribute its funding to seven other public universities across the state hoping to remodel and expand aging campus buildings to improve student life and culture.

Using past experiences as a basis for skepticism, Dakota Gaumer, a resident of nearby Blumel Residence Hall, said: “If PSU is renovating anything, I think it’s probably going to cost too much and [not do] what they’re saying. The PSU method is doing things almost right. Like 75% of the way and always disappointing.”

In light of these possible new construction efforts and if it would impact Blumel Hall’s livability, resident Mimi Perez, said: “Sometimes [the noise] bothers me, however the walls here are really good.”

If the SB1 project is green-lighted, the plan is to rename the building the Vernier Science Center, in honor of the couple’s decades-long commitment to PSU and to reflect the significance of their donation to the university. 

With modern capabilities and seismic and system upgrades, the building would be able to serve an estimated 4,200 students and house both academic and student programs aimed to cultivate interest in the sciences. 

PSU Vanguard/Portland State Vanguard

A conceptual rendering from Seattle-based SHKS Architects shows how the existing brutalist architecture, which is characterized by their massive blocky appearances and large-scale use of poured concrete, can be transformed after a planned $83 million modernization and expansion effort. 

SB1 is a key campus facility for undergraduate students in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. It is a substantial seven-story structure centered around a rectangular floor plan. It currently houses classrooms, offices and laboratories for biology, chemistry, environmental science, physics, electron microscopy and nanofabrication departments. Prior to the construction of SB1, all science facilities and faculty were located in Lincoln Hall. 

When similar upgrades were made to the new Fariborz Maseeh Hall, the arts department was displaced, requiring temporary facilities to be placed in the vacant lot on the north side of SB1.   

“The [temporary buildings] that were removed brought more foot traffic in this direction.” Portland resident Tom Mclaughlin said. “[PSU] certainly has expanded to the east, on Broadway and other places with small businesses, but I notice, with the expansion of the apartment buildings, that businesses will follow.”

“I walk by [SB1] almost every day,” McLaughlin said. “I know it’s seasonal, but I don’t see much utilization of the nice patio and park that’s on the north side. I think something that brings a little of the outdoors indoors or encouraging people to have a social gathering outside the building would be good.”

In addition to the SB1 upgrade, PSU is also proposing to build a new residence hall on the corner of 12th and Market St., which is currently held by the vacant Stratford Hall. This building would include upwards of 450 beds, multiple study lounges and common areas on the ground floor.