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High hopes for new University of Wisconsin science buildings

MILWAUKEE (AP) — The annual struggle to find a seat in chemistry classes at three University of Wisconsin campuses will get a little easier due to building projects in Madison, Stevens Point and La Crosse.

The Madison campus will get a new chemistry building that’s estimated to cost $107.8 million, with construction expected to start in 2017 and end in 2020, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

One in five students on the campus who need an organic chemistry class for their major end up taking it over the summer at another school due to the difficulty they face with enrollment in the smaller lab classes they need to graduate on time, according to Robert McMahon, a chemistry professor and department chair. This concerns McMahon, because students are better off taking the lecture and lab at the same time and on the same campus, he said.

“For 20 percent of our students going elsewhere for labs, it’s embarrassing on one hand, and it distorts what we’re trying to do within our curriculum,” McMahon said. “We didn’t appreciate how pervasive that was until last spring. But students are resourceful.”

At the Stevens Point campus, groundbreaking is scheduled to take place this year on a four-story chemistry and biology building that will cost about $75 million and should be ready for use in November 2017.

And in La Crosse, construction on an $82 million science labs building will begin in the spring with a goal of completion in winter 2018.

For years, University of Wisconsin officials have been saying science buildings that were constructed between four and five decades ago weren’t designed to keep up with soaring enrollments and evolving science. Chemistry course enrollments have ballooned at the Madison school alone in the past 20 years.

The ability to accommodate large freshman general chemistry and sophomore organic chemistry is crucial for undergraduate students to complete their degrees on time, McMahon said.

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