Science and math programs are expected to improve at the Pima Community College Northwest Campus with the completion of an $11 million expansion that will be celebrated this week.

The 55,000-square-foot building, with 48,000 square feet of usable space, is aimed at addressing increased classroom needs and improving community partnerships with local high schools and state universities. The three-story building primarily focuses on math and science expansions, but also includes a 105-seat lecture hall that will be used for community events and to accommodate larger class sizes.

 The expansion of the campus was planned years ago to meet the demand of the growing northwest Tucson area. The Pima Community College Board of Governors approved funding in April 2010, following several years of enrollment studies.

John Gillis, the campus dean of students, said several years ago the northwest campus had more than 7,000 students enrolled. In recent semesters, they have about 4,500 students enrolled.

For the students in the science and math programs, enrollment has increased to levels where non-classroom space was starting to be used for lectures.

“It was worth the wait,” said Gail Gonzales, a Northwest campus psychology faculty member who served on a committee that helped plan the building. “Having a little more space for the students is going to be helpful.”

 Darla Zirbes, acting northwest campus president, said they are pleased with the finished product because science and math programs now have a place to call home on campus.

“This really expands our capacity to serve the community, local high schools and universities and the programs that are valuable to this campus.”

The classroom/science lab building is a three-story facility with general education classrooms, a writing lab, a lecture hall, a math emporium, eight science labs and a lab prep space. The building includes designated space for the clinical research coordinator program and a hotel lobby and suite that serve as simulators for the hotel and restaurant management program. The building also features lots of indoor and outdoor spaces designed to allow students to hang out and study or take a break between classes.

Besides dedication to expanding math and science, Zirbes stressed the expansion will allow for more partnerships with local high schools and universities. For high school students, Zirbes said getting the students into the college atmosphere during their junior and senior years of high school will help them get acclimated to the culture and be prepared their freshman year of college.

At the university level, while Zirbes said the details are still being worked out, the college is planning to expand on the restaurant management program they already have with Northern Arizona University.

The second story of the new building provides space for hotel and restaurant management majors who are enrolled in the four-year degree program they can get by taking classes at the community college.

Zirbes said they are in discussions with the University of Arizona to increase bachelorette programs that would help expand math and science programs.

Working with a 10-year-old campus. Gillis said the challenge in getting the new building up was connecting it to existing structures. With only a metal seam visible in the chemistry lab of the third floor, the challenge was met.

Prior to the new building, the largest classroom on campus had the capacity to hold 40 students. Now, classrooms are built to hold between 40 and 80 in some areas. Math classes can be expanded or decreased as needed.

Technology was also a major factor as construction continued over the last three years. All math stations are equipped with computers and will allow students to work at their own pace. Next door to the math emporium is a testing lab for students to take tests as soon as they are ready. The testing center is also equipped with computers at every station.

Gillis said an added benefit to the new building is that attention was paid to making it more welcoming to students. Instead of students taking classes and leaving, Gillis said they are encouraging more study groups, giving students more of a chance to take advantage of tutoring and take the time to know the school they attend.

The ribbon-cutting ceremony will be hosted on Thursday at the Pima College campus.

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