The Balzer Technology Center
Engineering & Building the Future
By Marquita Smith
Tuesday, October 18, 2011
Senior engineering major, Bethany Miller ‘12 is completely floored by the new Lee and Alice Balzer Technology Center. The ceiling fans, open floor plans, contemporary furnishings and bright colors all raise the building’s charm factor. “I’ve always loved the program and its phenomenal professors. Now, we have a phenomenal building to add to all that,” she said.
The 40,000-square-foot facility which houses John Brown University’s growing engineering, construction management and renewable energy programs opened to students in August. And, the excitement and pride among students and faculty about the center is palpable, Miller added.
The $11 million project included an anonymous lead gift of $8 million to help fund the construction and the building endowment.
“God placed it on the heart of our lead donor to give. And the rest is history,” said Dr. Larry Bland, head of the engineering department. “All of this project is a definite gift from God.”
The building has approximately 25,000 square feet of classroom and office space with another 15,000 square feet of laboratory space. Formerly, the programs were spread out in three aging buildings, none specifically designed for teaching engineering or construction management.
“From the start of site excavation to occupancy was 8 ½ months,” said Bland. “The design phase carefully considered the pedagogical needs that are unique to our majors.”
The new building has its perks, still Miller says she misses the camaraderie in the old space.
“In some of the classrooms we were squashed together, and it created some closeness as we worked on our projects,” she said.
Still, nobody wants to be the first to break anything in the new digs, she explained with a smile.
Mechanical engineering major, Blake Garrison ‘12 said the new building offers a much better learning environment. One of his favorite features includes the study lounges, furnished with tables, chairs and large white boards and markers for completing difficult homework assignments. Before students created makeshift study areas in the lobby of the old building, he said.
“We’re proud of our engineering students and their successes,” said Bland. “We have students working on ‘lunabotics’ for NASA. Our undergrads have found jobs at firms like Texas Instruments, T.D. Williamson, Baker Hughes and Lockheed Martin and Boeing.”
The engineering program is one of JBU’s largest and oldest. Established over 75 years ago, the program now has over 100 majors and six faculty members. The construction management program has 50 students and three faculty members.
Both Miller and Garrison chose JBU because it was a Christian campus with a strong engineering program. Besides both hailing from Colorado, the two also share another common link. Their younger siblings are a part of the 2011 freshman class, the largest in JBU history.
“My little sister is here this year mostly because of my positive experience,” Miller said.
Garrison said this place touched him so that not only is his little sister here, but his mother will complete her degree here as well.
“When I started the program I never imagined such a facility,” he said. “I’ve watched it go up over the past months and I’m just grateful to have the opportunity to experience it before I graduate.”
Engineering students are not the only students excited about the center. Construction management students are now able to plan and execute projects in one interconnected space, said Professor Jim Caldwell, construction management department chair. “Our construction management program is over 70 years old this year, and the work of our students can be seen in communities around the world. From Nairobi, Kenya, to Dallas, Texas, our alumni have gone on to manage projects valued in the billions.”
From generating designs, estimates, and schedules in the computer lab to planning the execution in the Eagle Construction conference room, the steps can now be managed in an integrated facility, Caldwell explained.
“We have several donated structural building assemblies that the students will be able to construct in our high bay lab,” Caldwell said, adding that it will improve instruction for OSHA safety training.
Program graduates have been placed with companies such as Turner, Nabholz, and Flintco. And, former students are helping to build the region’s new Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, set to open Nov. 11, in Bentonville, Ark.
Marquita Smith is a professor of journalism and public relations at John Brown University