BLUFFTON — Bluffton University President James Harder announced Friday that the Austin E. Knowlton Foundation of Cincinnati has made the largest single donation in the university’s history.
The $4 million gift spearheads the development of a new science building to be located at the heart of campus. The university’s goal is to open the building by fall 2019.
“The generosity of the Knowlton Foundation and their interest in investing in higher education for the benefit of this region is huge,” Harder said. “It is a tremendous first step.”
The donation will pay for about one-third of the project’s total cost of $14.5 million.
The facility, which will be known as the Austin E. Knowlton Science Center, will feature three classrooms, 10 energy-efficient learning laboratories for biology, chemistry and dietetics students, and public spaces designed for visitors to experience science in action with views into all labs. The building will also house the natural and applied science division that currently includes biology, chemistry, physics, mathematics and dietetics.
“But it’s not just for science students,” Harder said. “At a liberal arts college like Bluffton, every student gets at least some exposure to the natural sciences, so every Bluffton student will benefit from this building in some way.”
In 2014, Harder said Bluffton’s planning team concluded that constructing a new science building was the university’s “highest priority.” The current science building, Shoker Hall, was built in the 1970s. The facility replaced the university’s first science building that was constructed in 1914.
“(Shoker) has outlived its lifespan,” Harder said. “It has served us well, but the sciences continue to grow and change as a discipline and our enrollments keep growing, so we needed to move to a third-generation science building on campus.”
Bluffton student Jeff Yoder sees the new science building as a move in the right direction.
“As technology has advanced so quickly in the last few years, it’s necessary to take steps in improving our facilities in order to help improve the student learning environment,” Yoder said. “The faculty have always been excellent, and now we have improved facilities as well.”
Harder described the new science building as “essential for Bluffton to deliver 21st-century teaching.”
Reach John Bush at 567-242-0456 or on Twitter @bush_lima