For any thriving university, the quest for adequate classroom space and dormitory space is a constant challenge. Indeed, the history of UNC Greensboro (UNCG) reveals an institution that has had periods of remarkable growth in its facilities to accommodate a growing student body as well as new academic programs. In the 1990s, the University was facing a severe space crunch and a need to renovate some of its existing buildings. In addition, UNC System administrators were forecasting a rapid growth in school age applicants in the coming decade.
A 1997 review of UNC Greensboro campus documented the need for a robust expansion and renovation plan. The report noted that the most pressing need was the construction of a new science building. Drawing on these findings, the University’s administration and science faculty advocated for a new building that would meet the modern research needs of its cutting-edge faculty and the hands-on learning needs of its student body. This post will examine how the Patricia A. Sullivan Science Building came to be built.
Prior to the 1997 facilities study, the UNCG’s science faculty had been discussing for nearly a decade their need for more classroom spaces, teaching laboratories, and new equipment to support modern research needs. Science faculty pointed to many of the challenges of their current home in the Mary Macy Petty Building. At the time of its construction in 1939, the Petty building and its labs were a model of advanced design. Yet, by the 1990s, science faculty had a long list of complaints that included poor ventilation systems in the lab areas.
This decades-long advocacy effort by faculty and administrators helped to raise awareness amongst the University’s Board of Trustees. Indeed, the Board of Trustees on April 23, 1998 approved the design for a new science laboratory facility. The proposed building was to be located next to the Eberhart Building along McIver Street. The Board of Trustees also approved the concept of closing McIver Street between Carr Street and Walker Ave and turning it into a pedestrian walkway. The landscaped walkway would run the length of the new science building.
With this approved plan in place, UNC Greensboro administrators advocated for this project and several other projects that were being considered for a state-wide bond referendum. On November 7, 2000, the voters of North Carolina passed a $3.1 billion Higher Education Bond Referendum to fund capital projects for the UNC System schools. As a result of the vote, UNCG was provided with $160 million to cover the costs of seventeen campus projects. $47.7 million was targeted for the construction of a 170,000 square foot science building. While the state was providing the funding for the construction of the building, the University was going to have to spend $5 million on the purchase of equipment for the new building’s laboratories.
On March 12, 2001, the University held a ground-breaking ceremony. Chancellor Patricia Sullivan presided over the event that featured the President of the UNC System Phillip Kirk, the chair of the UNC Board of Governors Ben Ruffin, and UNCG’s own Student Trumpet Ensemble and Market St. Brass. Sullivan noted that the “construction of the new science building is UNCG’s number one capital priority, and largest bond project.” She added that “it is an essential component in preparing our students to become viable practitioners of modern science and for building a knowledge base to support the changing economy of our region.”
The four-story facility was designed by O’Brien/Atkins Associates of Raleigh, North Carolina in association with Ellenzweig Associates of Cambridge, Massachusetts. The building was intended to house research and instructional space for the Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry, and instructional space for the Department of Biology. The new building would provide for twenty-five teaching laboratories, two lecture halls, a 300-seat auditorium, six seminar rooms, faculty offices, and a 1,500 square-foot teaching greenhouse on the fourth floor.
The building project was completed on time. It was open for classes during the fall 2003 term. The official opening and dedication of the building took place on October 5, 2003. Chancellor Sullivan stated that “this new science building is the anchor point for making this university the principal research center in the Triad by the end of the century.”
For the next five years, the newly constructed building was called the Science Building. On April 10, 2008, the UNCG Board of Trustees approved a new name for the building. It would now be called the Patricia A. Sullivan Science Building. The Board of Trustees announced the building’s new name at the conclusion of its final meeting of Chancellor Sullivan’s tenure as the academic leader of UNCG. The Board of Trustees Chair, Stephen C. Hassenfelt stated that “the Board of Trustees can’t think of a better way to honor you and your legacy.” In her remarks, Chancellor Sullivan stated that “knowing that this building now carries my name stirs a combination of emotions that are difficult to describe.” She noted that “the sciences have rewarded me. This university and all the wonderful people associated with it have rewarded me. And today, you have rewarded me with an incredible honor.”