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A Belated Opening for Center : Education: CSUN officials say the problems at the $15.4-million science building have been solved.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

When a curtain covering a plaque on the wall of Cal State Northridge’s new science building was pulled away during Monday’s dedication ceremony, patches of paint came off as well. The crowd of administrators, faculty and students good-naturedly laughed and booed at the minor damage. CSUN President James W. Cleary said not to worry: “It only shows how fresh the paint is.”

But the glitch in the unveiling of the much-heralded $15.4-million addition to the school’s science facilities served as a reminder of the long road the school trod before the grand opening of the addition, which includes a 105-seat planetarium, faculty offices and chemistry and biology labs.

Administrators said the opening of the science building, which has been in use since the start of the fall semester, was nearly 1 1/2 years later than planned because of construction delays, design changes and other problems. Some of the seemingly minor glitches--such as floor vibrations from the air conditioner--were particularly troublesome because they were in laboratories where sensitive experiments were to be conducted.

But having finally completed the building, school administrators showed it off Monday, saying the problems had been rectified and that the school now has a state-of-the-art science complex.

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In a planetarium demonstration, they projected the Milky Way on the ceiling and tracked the moon’s rotation around the Earth. They took visitors on tours of the labs, showing off a molecular sciences lab where researchers can study such things as the makeup of pollution samples or DNA.

Cleary announced that the addition was dedicated to Assemblyman Richard Katz (D-Sylmar), who fought for three years to obtain funding for the new science center. He also said the new building will provide students with a top quality environment for science studies and noted that the planetarium will offer programs available to the whole community.

“I think the opportunity the planetarium will provide is to assist us in our mission to bring the school and community together,” Cleary said. “It will be wonderful as a recruiting tool in terms of attracting youngsters to the field of science.”

Paul Klinedinst, acting dean of the School of Science and Mathematics, said the new facility was originally planned for completion in April, 1990, but was nevertheless worth the wait.

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“I have been working on this for so long and there were so many obstacles, I got pessimistic,” Klinedinst said. “I was beginning to feel like Moses, wondering if I would see the promised land. But now it’s done, and I am very happy with it.”

Faculty members began discovering glitches and gaffes in the new center after construction was begun. Astronomy professors complained that seats in the planetarium were installed at a permanent incline, making use of the building as a lecture hall uncomfortable if not impossible. Some classrooms had automatic lighting fixtures that precluded using the rooms for slide presentations or films. And countertops in labs were not made from non-corrosive material.

The most disconcerting problem cropped up when the climate control system’s ventilation fans were tested and faculty and administration officials felt vibrations in the building. Though seemingly mild, the vibrations could blur the view through the sensitive electron microscope used by the biology department.

Cleary and Klinedinst said most of the problems were easily rectified with the project’s architect and contractor and university planners working together. Some countertops had to be replaced. The ventilation equipment was balanced and fine-tuned.

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“Whatever vibration is left will not affect” laboratory equipment, Cleary said.

Officials said the planetarium seats can be adjusted by technicians, but it is unlikely that the hall will be used for lectures anyway because the astronomy department plans to use the hall almost full time for planetarium classes.

Cleary said the costs of making changes or repairs were not substantial and were paid by the builder. School officials said the cost of the new addition and permanently installed equipment was $14.3 million with another $1.1 million for other furnishings.

Reaction from science teachers to the new building on Monday was generally very good. Chemistry professor Dean Skovlin, who teaches lab classes in the new building, said there are still some bugs to iron out but overall he gave it a thumbs-up.

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“I think everybody is pleased with the general appearance and function,” Skovlin said. “There are still things, as with any new building, that are going to need to be fine-tuned.”

At least one faculty member was glad Monday that he was not working in the new building. More than half of a floor in the new center was originally set to be used as classrooms and laboratories for Prof. Edward Pollock, but the microbiologist chose not to move from a 1950s-era science building.

Pollack said he decided to stay behind because he did not want to risk vibrations in the new building hindering his students’ use of the electron microscope. He said that, although fine-tuning of the ventilation system ended vibration in the floor, he has felt vibrations from walls in the new building.

“I think it is better to be away from these possible problems,” Pollock said. “I am glad I stayed where I am. I think that what I have over here is superior to the new building.

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“Any new building looks nice with new paint and materials. But that doesn’t last long.”


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