State earmarks $14 million for Stony Brook Southampton upgrades

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Stony Brook Southampton will receive $14.4 million from New York State to renovate its student center and build a new marine science research center, according to the budget signed by Governor David Paterson last week.

State Senator Kenneth LaValle and State Assemblyman and Southampton College alumnus Fred Thiele pushed hard for the funding. The new marine center, which will cost $6.9 million, is slated to be one of the best along the East Coast, according David Conover, dean of Stony Brook’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences.

“The thing our marine science center emphasizes is hands-on experiences, getting them out on the water, giving them space where they can do research,” Mr. Conover said. The current center sits on a 1.3-acre lot on Old Fort Pond, though he quickly added “it’s not what we’d call a state-of-the-art, modern, advanced waterfront laboratory.”

The $7.5 million expansion to the Student Center, which used to be Wood Hall, will likely include a larger health center with aerobic exercise and weight rooms, as well as expanded recreational space. Students will have a significant amount of input on the design, according to Vice President for Student Affairs Peter Baigent.

“We’ll have to see how far $7.5 million stretches,” he said.

The state also allocated $1.5 million for the Marine Disease Pathology and Research Consortium at the main Stony Brook campus, which was formed to research a lobster die-off in Long Island Sound.

The college has not yet hired an architect to design the new marine science center, but what is certain is that at least two of the existing buildings, both constructed in 1926, will be replaced. A 2,600-square-foot laboratory built in 1986 might remain on the property.

The center, which is now 7,500 square feet, will double in size following renovations. Most of that expansion will be upward, because the university will not be able to expand the footprint of the building because of nearby wetlands.

On Tuesday, marine science center Director Dick McIntyre watched the center’s floating classroom, the 45-foot catamaran R/V Peconic, pull away from the dock with a group of students from Smithtown High School on board.

“This was a mom and pop marina,” Mr. McIntyre said. “The buildings are old. They’ve become unserviceable … for our purposes.”

Those purposes include the desire for a new “wet lab,” a facility that will pump seawater into indoor tanks for experiments, to keep specimens alive and provide a safe environment to raise shellfish. The new system will be computer-operated and monitored 24 hours a day.

Mr. Conover expects the new station will be built within the next three to four years. It will also be at least a silver rated LEED-certified building, the third highest classification for sustainable design.

“We would like the building to be a model for energy efficiency,” he said.

The college will need to raise $1.7 million to pay for equipment for the laboratories, according to officials.

Stony Brook also plans to use the center for public outreach activities, school groups and lectures. The center’s captain, Brian Gagliardi, said the R/V Peconic is currently booked by school groups for the next two weeks. When the new center is built, that kind of community outreach will likely grow.

“We have a lot of things we want to put in this building,” said Mr. Conover. “It’s going to be a balancing act getting all the things we want into it.”

“It has one of the world’s best views. It’s a fabulous location and we’ll be able to capitalize on those attributes,” added Stony Brook Southampton Interim Dean Martin Schoonen, who has also helped the college acquire four new sunfish to add to the recreational fleet that is housed at the marine science center.

The college estimates that 170 students currently use the marine science center, but with the approval of two new marine science curricula in January, that number is expected to grow dramatically.

What remains unclear, though, is how the students will continue to access the waterfront while the center is being built. Currently, thanks to serious ?shoaling in Old Fort Pond, Mr. Gagliardi often ties up the center’s ocean research vessel, the R/V Paumanok, at a nearby marina when the tide is too low to ?leave from the marine station. That arrangement could become more ?important during the construction process.

Meanwhile, the college is also currently applying for permits to dredge the pond.

“We have to continue to train students,” said Stony Brook Southampton Media Relations Manager Darren Johnson. “It’s going to be difficult. I can’t tell you exactly how we’re going to do that.”

But Mr. Schoonen put that issue in perspective: “That’s a nice problem to have.”

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