Marshall breaks ground for engineering complex; building will have state-of-the-art instructional, research facilities

Marshall officials, joined by special guests Art and Joan Weisberg and other friends and supporters of the university, broke ground Monday on a $50 million engineering complex on the Huntington campus.

Construction will begin this week on the 145,000 square-foot, four-story Arthur Weisberg Family Applied Engineering Complex. The facility, which will be one of the largest academic buildings on campus when completed, will be located on Third Avenue between the Arthur Weisberg Family Engineering Laboratories and the Robert C. Byrd Biotechnology Science Center.

Construction of the complex is expected to take about 28 months.

Weisberg is president of Arthur’s Enterprises, which this past summer made a large gift pledge to the Marshall University Foundation to help pay for the complex.

“Today truly is another significant day in the history of Marshall University,” President Stephen J. Kopp said. “We are thrilled that Art, Joan and other members of the Weisberg family could join us for this wonderful celebration of this very significant investment in the future of Marshall University, to which they have supported so earnestly. We are very proud and honored that this spectacular building will bear the Weisberg family name.”

Weisberg’s reason for supporting Marshall’s engineering program, which now has about 600 students, is simple: “I love Huntington and I know this gift will make a lasting difference,” he said when the gift was announced.

President Kopp said interdisciplinary and inter-professional education will be enhanced through the opportunities afforded through the addition of this building.

“This new applied engineering complex will move Marshall University and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) majors to the forefront in terms of the quality and caliber of facilities available to support and advance STEM education – especially in new fields of engineering,” he said. “The interdisciplinary and integrated learning environments will foster collaborative research and inter-professional education that previously was not available to the University. The idea that you can link engineering with other disciplines in this building is very powerful.”

Sen. Robert H. Plymale, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, was the lead sponsor of legislation in 2004 that led to the restart of Marshall’s engineering program. He said today’s groundbreaking proves just how far the program has come in a few short years.

“My congratulations to Dr. Kopp and the Weisberg family for recognizing and committing to this project, and its importance to Marshall, the state of West Virginia and the entire country,” Plymale said. “I respect the Weisbergs so much and Dr. Kopp for his commitment to seeing this through. This is a defining moment for Marshall University.”

Plymale said bringing engineering back to Marshall took years of hard work.

“It’s one of the most satisfying projects I’ve been involved in,” Plymale said. “It’s one that I’ve worked on literally for 20 years.”

Dr. Wael Zatar, dean of Marshall’s College of Information Technology and Engineering, said the new complex “will not only provide facilities for substantial development of engineering areas like mechanical engineering, electrical engineering and bioengineering, but will enhance our capabilities in specific engineering sub-disciplines such as environmental engineering, transportation engineering and structural engineering as well.

“The complex will be the home for all our undergraduate and graduate programs and will essentially give us the opportunity to grow and expand into some areas that are important to the region,” he continued. “The completion of the complex will enable us to have state-of-the-art instructional and research facilities and will likely result in significant enrollment increases in all our programs. Undergraduate programs such as engineering, computer science and safety technology are expected to encounter significant expansions.”

The need for more engineers is on the rise, Zatar said. He said engineers saw a 12 percent growth in hiring demand in September, with more than 184,000 job postings online. And, he said, the national unemployment rate for recently graduated undergraduate engineering students dropped from a little over six percent in 2009 to two percent in 2011.

Zatar said projects today are requiring more highly skilled professionals and the nationwide shortage of engineers is evident. He added that engineering and computer science graduates are in high demand and earn salaries above the national average. In fact, he said, engineering graduates have received the highest compensation for graduates from four-year programs.

“Professional societies such as the American Society of Civil Engineers and the Society of American Military Engineers are excited to see the resurgence of the engineering program at Marshall University because it will assist in leading our nation into the future,” he said.

Dr. John M. Maher, Marshall’s vice president for research, said the impact of the new building will be profound and felt long into the future.

“The engineering program will now have a state-of-the-art physical space in which to grow and thrive,” Maher said. “In addition, research at Marshall will be immensely enhanced by the proximity of high-tech facilities and faculty along the Third Avenue corridor. Researchers in engineering will now be closer to colleagues in medicine, pharmacy, chemistry, biology and physics, and the offices of the research corporation will be more convenient to the campus community. Marshall’s already considerable strengths in collaborative, multidisciplinary research will be taken to new levels by this forward-looking investment.”

The completion of the engineering complex means Marshall will have added more than $100 million in academic facilities on the north side of Third Avenue from Hal Greer Boulevard to the parking garage across from Cam Henderson Center in just a little over eight years. The Robert C. Byrd Biotechnology Science Center opened in 2006, and the Arthur Weisberg Family Engineering Laboratories opened in 2008.

The construction firm BBL Carlton of Charleston will build the engineering complex. The design firms are Bastian & Harris Architects from Charleston and Hastings & Chivetta Architects from St. Louis.

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Photos: (Above) Marshall President Stephen J. Kopp, center, leads a ceremonial groundbreaking marking the start of construction of the Arthur Weisberg Family Applied Engineering Complex. The event took place in the Joan C. Edwards Performing Arts Center. Pictured are, from left, A. Michael Perry, Louis Weisberg, Sen. Robert Plymale, Joan Weisberg, Dr. Kopp, Dr. Wael Zatar, Dr. Chuck Somerville, Dr. John Maher and Chuck Moore. (Below) Joan Weisberg listens as her husband, Arthur Weisberg, speaks to the audience during today’s ceremonial groundbreaking at the Joan C. Edwards Performing Arts Center. Construction on the Arthur Weisberg Family Applied Engineering Complex begins this week. Photos by Rick Haye/Marshall University.