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Feb. 15, 2008

Biorenewables Complex

Iowa State's proposed biorenewables complex received regent approval Feb. 7. Construction of the first wing (lighter building at center) -- a research laboratory for the Bioeconomy Institute -- will begin this fall. The site lies between the College of Design (right) and Howe Hall (top left). A parking ramp (top right) is part of the project. Submitted image.

Regents approve science complex, site prep for chemistry facility

by Anne Krapfl

Work is expected to begin this fall on a biorenewables research laboratory, the first wing in a larger biorenewables complex on the west side of campus.

The Board of Regents, State of Iowa, gave final approval to plans for the laboratory building, including a $32 million budget, at its Feb. 7 meeting in Ames. It will be the new home of ISU's Bioeconomy Institute.

The board also approved the schematic design for the complex, which would include two wings for the agricultural and biosystems engineering (ABE) department, an open atrium connecting all three wings of the complex and a separate four-level parking ramp. Specific plans for those components will be presented to the board when funding proposals are complete. The parking ramp would cost up to $22 million, and be funded with parking fees and state-issued bonds. The ABE wings would cost an estimated $66.5 million and be covered by some combination of state building funds, state-issued bonds and private gifts.

When it is built, the ABE wing designated for offices and classrooms will be named for Virgil Elings, who received his B.S. in mechanical engineering from Iowa State (1961) and co-founded Digital Instruments. Elings made a $5 million gift to the building.

The site for the complex is the green space north of Howe Hall.

Executive vice president and provost Elizabeth Hoffman told the regents the proposed complex combines the historic strength of the department with the university's emerging focus on research in biorenewables.

Vice president for business and finance Warren Madden said the university plans to receive construction bids for the biorenewables laboratory in September, with the building ready for occupancy by January 2010.

New center

Hoffman shared with the board some details of Iowa State's new Center for Carbon Capturing Crops. (Regent approval of the center isn't necessary because it will cost ISU less than $250,000 annually, at least initially.) She said the center will develop crops with stalks that degrade more slowly to "capture" more carbon and put it back in the soil, in order to reduce the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

"It is part of an ongoing emphasis at Iowa State on climate change and how we can remedy some of these problems," she said.

Pat Schnable, associate director of the Plant Sciences Institute and director of the Center for Plant Genomics, also will lead this center. It is housed in the Carver Co-Lab.

Funding ($160,000 in year one) will come from the president's office, and reallocations from the Plant Sciences Institute and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

In response to a regent's question, Hoffman said organizing as a center will help researchers compete successfully for large federal and private grants.

Total compensation

The regents requested data that compares the average total compensation package of faculty at each regent university with faculty at their peer universities. The question came up during the board's discussion of 2007-08 faculty salaries and the three universities' poor ranking among their peer groups (among peer groups that each contain 11 schools, Iowa State is last, Iowa is 8th, and the University of Northern Iowa is 5th).

Hoffman said she is aware of just one or two schools with a better benefits package than Iowa State offers.

Building demolitions

The board approved Iowa State's request to demolish three buildings. Fisher-Nickell Hall, built in 1952 and currently the temporary home of the ISU Alumni Association, will be torn down following the association's move to the new alumni center this summer. This will allow final pieces of the Hixson-Lied Student Center project to be completed, including a parking lot and landscaping. The cost of this demolition is included in the Hixson-Lied budget.

The Agricultural Engineering Shed and Industrial Education I, located north of Davidson Hall, will be torn down to create space for the new chemistry facility. Construction on that begins this summer. Both buildings are termed "technologically obsolete." The cost to demolish them is included in the chemistry facility budget.

In other action, the regents:

  • Affirmed Iowa State's decision to deny tenure to assistant professor of physics and astronomy Guillermo Gonzalez by a vote of 7-1. Regent Craig Lang voted against the motion. Regent Michael Gartner was absent.
  • Approved the sale of 160 acres of farmland in Monona County gifted to the food science and human nutrition department in 2006 at the death of alumna Virginia Gladney. Proceeds from the sale (an estimated $669,600) will be used by the department for an endowed professorship.
  • Approved a $25 million sale of ISU academic building bonds. About half of the funds will be used to finance the remainder of the work on the Vet Med teaching hospital and diagnostic laboratory, and phase I of the addition and renovation work at Coover Hall. The rest of the funds will be split between deferred maintenance, fire safety and campus security projects; and construction of the new chemistry facility.
  • Approved Iowa State's request to award an honorary degree to U.S. State Department veteran Kenneth Quinn, who now serves as president of the World Food Prize Foundation, Des Moines. Quinn will be honored at the fall 2008 commencement.
  • Elected regent Jack Evans to serve as president pro tem until the board holds its biannual elections sometime before May 1. Former president pro tem David Miles is filling the unexpired term of Gartner, who resigned from the president's role in November.
  • Approved changes to the regents' policy manual that ties meal reimbursement rates for traveling university employees to the federal General Services Administration rates. The revised policy notes that maximum reimbursement rates can't fall below $31 per day for in-state travelers and $40 per day for travelers outside Iowa.
  • Approved an additional $1.27 million in the budget for the Memorial Union renovation. This will cover the cost of finishing the Office of Admisssions' visitor center in unfinished space in the south addition and installing more fire sprinklers, and allow ISU Dining to revise its cafe/store plans for better function. These changes will be funded by ISU Dining, private gifts, the division of Student Affairs, facilities overhead funds and ISU investment earnings.


New building projects -- a biorenewables complex and the chemistry facility -- were among the Iowa State agenda items at the Board of Regents' Feb. 7 meeting in Ames.