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UND CHEMISTRY EQUIPMENT HAS SEEN BETTER DAYS
They don't build them like they used to.
In the case of UND's Abbott Hall, they couldn't. The building wouldn't meet standards for modern chemistry laboratories.
"If you built new today, you would not be able to build it that way," UND Plant Services Director LeRoy Sondrol said of the chemistry building's work space and ventilation system. "High school laboratories are much better equipped."
Abbott Hall was finished in 1961 at a cost of $937,000. It comfortably fit about 800 students, including eight graduate students, then enrolled in chemistry classes.
But the chemistry program has increased to about 1,200 students, with 30 graduate students, each semester. Students and faculty work on turn-of-the-century workbenches in over-crowded laboratories with inadequate air circulation. Some of their equipment came from the building that Abbott Hall replaced.
For about a decade, the university and State Board of Higher Education have sought $5.75 million for an addition to the building and for laboratory renovation.
The most recent rejection of the project came in April, when the state House of Representatives failed by two votes to approve money for Abbott and other board projects.
The request will be on UND's priority list again in 1989, said Al Hoffarth, UND vice president for operations.
Space is the department's first priority.
"When you talk about safety and hazards, probably the crowding has got to be a big thing," said Roland Severson, chairman of the chemistry department.
That's why UND asked the Legislature for the addition first. And remodeling, without an addition to move students into, would shut down some graduate student research.
The building is reaching student saturation, especially for graduate-level research, Severson said. "We can't increase the number of graduate students." The department hasn't turned away students, but that remains a possibility.
The crowded conditions put the department at a disadvantage when seeking research grants and equipment donations. Foundations don't want to donate to a department that might not have room or the proper conditions for equipment or research.
"It makes it difficult to get any money," Severson said, pointing out crowded and cluttered graduate labs. "It's not what you like to show off."
Abbott's ventilation system also is a problem. State-of-the-art when the building opened, the system doesn't meet the needs of modern chemical experiments. Safety standards have become more stringent, Severson said.
In summer, the laboratories are filled with fans to keep people cool and to keep the air circulating so the handful of ventilation hoods will work properly.
Graduate students, who do more complex experiments, need a greater number of ventilation hoods than the department has available. Most of the graduate-level labs have only three or four hoods, which often are on one side of the room, away from the workbenches students use.
"The students are here, the hoods are back here," Severson said. "We either not do some experiments or we have to be very, very careful containing stuff in the labs."
Some minor remodeling is planned this year. The university plans to spend about $18,000 to remodel three laboratories to provide climate control necessary for some equipment. That won't solve all the ventilation problems.
The department also would like to replace many of the students' wooden workbenches. Those benches, taken from the old chemistry building, date to the early 1900s, Severson said. He described the broken-glass surprise some students get when the bottoms fall out of their workbench drawers.
Legislative funds probably would be the only source for major repairs and additions, according to Hoffarth and Larry Isaaks, finance officer for the State Board of Higher Education.
"The board really has no source of funding to tap," Isaaks said. Private sources are rare for upkeep on academic buildings.
One Abbott lab recently was remodeled to accommodate a $280,000 nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometer, an analytical tool that helps determine the structure of molecules. The spectrometer was bought with money from the National Science Foundation and university matching funds. UND plant improvement funds covered the $9,000 remodeling cost.
Hoffarth said private funds for remodeling or building for Abbott are not available. Federal building sources, some of which help build Abbott, essentially have dried up.
The university will continue to lobby legislators for money. In October, a group of legislators on interim budget committees toured Abbott Hall.
Rep. Curtis Almlie, R-Mayville, took his first visit to Abbot last month.
"I saw definite problems with the ventilation with the hall," he said. "After the tour of buildings, I can certainly understand what they're talking about in regard to some remodeling ... to make it safer for students."
"I've been through there many times," Sen. Corliss Mushik, D-Mandan, said: "I have been aware that there was an obvious need there."
But recognizing the need doesn't guarantee the money.
"Given the unknowns in the next year and half, to one can really say at the moment," Mushik said. "I think a lot of it's going to depend on how healthy our economies are."
Grand Forks Herald, November 22, 1987