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I got the surprise of my life when people were complaining about a DR editorial. You mean the BYH column is not the...

Biotechnology building will be ‘gateway’

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Karen Eckert

Friday, July 12, 2019

ECU’s new Life Sciences and Biotechnology Building at the corner of Cotanche and 10th Streets will serve as a gateway in more ways than one.

Along with being a means of access to teaching, learning and research, it also will serve as an entry point to ECU’s planned millennial campus, said Dan Gerlach, interim chancellor, at a groundbreaking ceremony for the 141,000 square-foot facility on Friday afternoon.

ECU faculty, administrators, Board of Trustee members and other guests attended the ceremony.

“(This building) will fill an important need to help house our biology department and ... encourage interdisciplinary work,” Gerlach said. “It’s one of the reasons why the General Assembly and the governor agreed to support our project, because of a belief that our employers here in this region could benefit from this interdisciplinary and high-quality work.”

The $90 million facility, which will serve as an expansion to the 50-year-old Howell Science Complex, is scheduled to be completed by August 2021, ECU officials said.

“(In it) you will find biologists, engineers, physicists and chemists ... teams of faculty and students doing interdisciplinary research and solving difficult problems,” said Ron Mitchelson, provost and senior vice chancellor for academic affairs.

“We have over 2,000 biology and engineering majors at the undergraduate and graduate levels at ECU,” Mitchelson said.

The building is being funded through the $2 billion Connect NC Bond referendum, earmarked for capital projects, which was passed by state voters in March of 2016, according to ECU officials.

It will include a wet bench — an automated process tool used to carry out cleaning and etching operations in semiconductor manufacturing — and computational laboratory spaces. It will have three complete floors with a fourth floor being shelled in. A partial fifth floor will house the mechanical penthouse. A 248-space lot will provide parking.

The building has been a long time coming.

Mitchelson said that he remembers attending a meeting at N.C. State in the fall of 2015 with then-Governor Pat McCrory. ECU had no project on the governor’s original list, but Henry Hinton, Harry Smith and Jim Holmes advocated for a new life sciences and biotechnology building to be added. The new building was “to complement a small, aging and tired Howell Science complex.”

Mitchelson said he also recalls after that meeting “hitting the road with Chancellor (Steve) Ballard so that we could sell Connect NC and our specific project to community leaders and voters. The referendum passed with a 67 percent positive vote. We had very broad support on and off campus.

“Folks like Mark Phillips (North Carolina Biotechnology Center), John Chaffee (NCEast Alliance) and Wanda Yuhas, (Pitt County Development Commission), supported us loudly because they saw the economic development potential of an investment like this,” Mitchelson said.

Cindy Putnam-Evans, interim chairwoman of the biology department and associate dean in the Thomas Harriot College of Arts and Sciences, remembers even further back.

She said that when she first arrived to work at ECU in 1993, she was put on the new building committee.

“And here we are 26 years later and it’s finally going to happen, so I couldn’t be more thrilled,” she said.

“I’m thrilled for our faculty. I think to have a new facility for our students to train in — state of the art — it’s just going to make a huge difference in the kind of experience we can provide for them,” Putnam-Evans said.

Mayor P.J. Connelly said he was excited for what the building will mean to the city of Greenville.

“It’s definitely an asset and we’re very lucky to have East Carolina University in our community. Every time that they expand, it brings something special to our community,” Connelly said.

Connelly said that the building is well positioned, coming off the 10th Street Connector project.

“It’s going to be a first good impression as you come off that connector,” he said.

Karen Eckert can be reached at 252-329-9565 or at keckert@reflector.com.

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