Bolin Science Hall welcomes new renovations and reopens planetarium


Abigail Jones

The Bolin Planetarium plays “Oasis in Space,” which shows a view of Earth from space, Feb. 16.

Bolin Science hall has big renovation plans on its horizon. An approval process for the renovation plans is to take place over the next three years. The dean’s office for the McCoy College of Science, Mathematics and Engineering has been laying out plans for how to maximize the space available in Bolin, according to Jackie Dunn, professor of physics.

“Some of the things we have [are] renderings of ideas: a welcome center when you enter, the building from this north side will be a more of a modern welcome,” James Johnston, Interim President, said. “Right now you walk in and it’s just hallways, classrooms, office so we’ll do that and it will be administrative offices and taking care of the students as they walk through the door. Then all of the labs have to be modernized and renovated creating more space, adding on to the building and moving some of the offices out [to] build in more of the lab spaces through the center.”

Dunn said the most of the renovations are in an effort to reconfigure Bolin and to provide more space for everyone, a modification, she said,  that has been in the plans for a while and is now long overdue. Johnston said that these plans have also included upgrading other buildings and infrastructure on campus.

“The Capital Enhancement Funds we received from the state will allow us to move forward with the Bolin Science Hall. There are some infrastructure things, the maintenance tunnels that are on campus, dredging Sikes Lake, there’s things like that that have to be maintained and kept up as well. So, we’re looking at all of those and have the plans of how we would spend the money from the state that we received, and now it’s just a very tedious process to go through each of the steps to get to that point of having the money and starting the projects,” Johnston said. “Infrastructure moves through the center of [Bolin], if you try to move all of that outward its incredibly more expensive to do that, so they’re working with the existing building but really taking those apart restructuring modernizing and building all those.”

This modernizing will aid, not only in aesthetic value for the university, but also in recruitment and retention of students. Scientific equipment must be updated to best prepare students for their field, according to Dunn.

“It’s hard when you’re doing sciences to be in a space that is in any way outdated, so it’s nice to always kind of bring anything up to date just for the sake of that,” Dunn said. “Everybody pretty much has growing pains on campus, I think. So, there’s never enough space. So, I know they’re looking forward to getting space in this building.”

Physics senior Kendra Jean-Jacques said that these upgrades are important for giving students hands-on experience and opportunities within their fields. She also said that new things always improve student happiness in general.

“Honestly, I feel that it’s a great initiative and it’s always good to get upgraded equipment… I’m hoping that the upgrade has study areas for students to just chill and study. Also, a more appealing environment makes the students actually want to go there,” Jean-Jacques said. “Chemistry labs, physics labs, biology labs, mechanical engineering labs, just get all the labs upgraded because outside of the classes, outside of lecture, that’s what actually gives the students the hands-on training, the hands-on experience that they need. And it’s a practical way of putting what they learned in class into use, so if we have upgraded labs and upgraded equipment from the renovation, I’m pretty sure that will make lecture a lot more interesting.”

Dunn said that renovations in sciences can be expensive. It can cost up from 50 to 60 thousand dollars to upgrade the computers in Bolin Hall’s planetarium, another area that will be upgraded in this process. When the pandemic arrived, the planetarium was closed, and with that, the planetary shows stopped.

The planetarium allows for a unique watching experience for students, Feb. 16.
The planetarium allows for a unique watching experience for students, Feb. 16. (Abigail Jones)

“We shut down before the pandemic and so nobody came in this room because we weren’t doing shows. There was no point. None of us around the country knew what would happen with the computers so we didn’t expect there to be any issues. When we came back in to reopen last summer, we were hoping to restart shows, and the computers wouldn’t turn on. They would just cycle power,” Dunn said. 

Pandemic relief funds, specifically for technology issues,  paid for planetarium computer repairs just in time before reopening this semester. Dunn said the planetarium will begin shows again in April, something Jean-Jacques said she plans to come back and see again after she graduates this May.

“With the planetarium I really think it’s extremely great that they’re reopening it. For the summer I see they already have in the cards to have planetarium sessions. It’s good to get students into science or, more particular, physics, to let them know more about the options that we have out there,” Jean-Jacques said. “Hopefully l can get to come back in the summer and just go through one of the sessions, because it’s a really nice feeling after going to conferences [when] you see the planetarium and the sessions that they have. I would like our students to experience that… [For] our sophomore and junior physics majors, it will be a really good feel for them, like they have something that belongs to them.”

Physics professor Jackie Dunn holds a "Celestial Buddy" representing a sun, available for younger tour groups, Feb. 16.
Physics professor Jackie Dunn holds a “Celestial Buddy” representing a sun, available for younger tour groups, Feb. 16. (Abigail Jones)