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President’s Message / Building Up to a New Landmark in Science

When it’s your business to construct 145,000-square-foot buildings, even when winter is doing its worst to impede you, your space heaters are big.

How big? Imagine ripping the engine from a fighter jet. Then imagine dragging that engine indoors and lighting it up, so that as it roars to life it blasts enough blue flame and heat to toast marshmallows at about 20 feet. Now you have some idea what it takes to keep a job site reasonably comfortable when it’s 12 below zero outside. Over the past winter, one of the most daunting for even long-time Wisconsinites, our partners at Miron Construction Co. used a lot of these fiery beasts to keep the emerging Gehl-Mulva Science Center on track.

Of course, even before the cold weather arrived, Miron and its many subcontractors had worked relentlessly to get the GMS project under roof and essentially airtight. That allowed them to focus their attention on the massive interior, where the work has been proceeding in a dizzying ballet of the construction trades. Every day things are happening on every floor, from the greenhouse atop a new western addition to the classrooms and labs in the basement. (Well, we call it the “garden level” – and it is nice, I have to say). While one crew is pouring and polishing terrazzo floors in the main entry, another is installing chemistry tables on the third floor.

All that choreography is paying off. The project is on schedule, not to mention right on its $39.2 million budget. In fact, by this May the huge new addition to the east side of GMS will be done and ready to occupy, as will the completely renovated western half of the old John R. Minahan Science Hall. In just months from now our faculty and students will be flooding into these beautiful new spaces, even as the Miron teams invade the old eastern half of JMS. (They’ll be gutting everything in that space and devoting the next 12 months to making it over like new. The target for final completion is May 2015.)

Among those who’ll be moving in shortly, too, is Dr. Matthew Hunsaker. The Medical College of Wisconsin introduced Matt a few months back as the dean for its new Green Bay-area campus, which will be headquartered in GMS. Matt comes here after spending the past decade as director of the Rural Medicine Education program for the University of Illinois Medical College at Rockford. Matt will become the “face” of the Medical College’s northeast Wisconsin initiative. He will work directly with St. Norbert and the other partners in this unique collaborative: They include the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, Bellin College and the region’s hospitals.

Matt knows what it is to practice general medicine in underserved regions, just as he knows how to train physicians to do it. As a nationally recognized expert, he has regularly consulted for other states that are trying to figure out how to solve this growing issue in health care. Now we who call northeast Wisconsin home will be benefiting from Matt’s experience, as in just a few years the medical college will be turning out doctors who, it is hoped, will be predisposed to live and work in the region.

For now, the medical college has been busily tending to the many details that remain to be addressed in the short time before its first cohort of students arrives on our campus in the summer of 2015.

By the time those eager, white-coated students get here, the jet-engine space heaters of the Great Winter of 2014 will be a distant memory. In fact, 2015 is set to be a watershed year in the college’s history, as I think you’ll agree when you read the latest round of good news from campus. And the gleaming Gehl-Mulva Science Center will tower over the Fox River as a new symbol of the 21st-century St. Norbert College.

March 31, 2014