New science center to provide more research opportunities

Photo Courtesy of Mason Facilities

Photo Courtesy of Mason Facilities

Mason began construction on the Potomac Science Center, a new educational and research facility, earlier this month.

Located in Woodbridge at the intersection of the Occoquan and Potomac Rivers, the center will provide a new home for the Potomac Environmental Research and Education Center and more laboratory space for Geographic Information Systems.

“It’s such a great opportunity for Mason,” said Jennifer Halpin, the assistant director of Marketing for Regional Campuses. “We were so lucky to get the land donated and to be able to build a building of this type, and the lab space that’s going to be in there, it’s just magnificent.”

Halpin says the “location is perfect” for PEREC and GIS and that PEREC will greatly benefit from the proximity to its main focus of research, the Potomac River. Research “will be ongoing” in the labs, which will be “state-of-the-art,” according to Haplin.

“It’s going to be the premiere watershed research center on the east coast,” Haplin said.

According to Halpin, Geographic Information Systems will benefit from the center’s location because they will be closer to important partnerships that will expand the program. The Mason Facilities website said the center will provide “enhanced opportunities for GIS collaboration with government agencies and private industry.”

Halpin said the center also aims to contribute to the local community life by educating the public on the topics of the center’s research.

According to Halpin and PEREC’s website, PEREC already has community and K-12 education programs, but the new facility will enhance them.

“[The new center will] allow those programs to be a little more robust and have a real center point to come and do actual hands-on learning,” Halpin said.

She said the center will also offer public seminars and rental space for environmental and GIS organizations.

PSC will cost an estimated $30 million, which was taken out as a loan from the state, according to Halpin, and will be paid back primarily through revenue generated by the seminars and rental space.

“It is funded by debt through the state,” Halpin said. “We got approval from the state of Virginia, so that’s another reason we want to make sure that we utilize the public space in the best possible way so we can generate revenue that again support the programming that is occurring on site and supports the operations of the actual building.”

The new center is also designed to be a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certified building.

Halpin said that halfway through the project, LEED standards became more strict. She said this contributed to a delay in the project because they had to re-design and re-budget, pushing back the original completion date of December 2015. However, she said the changes were necessary.

“They’ve made it very, very difficult to get LEED-certified, but that was really a main goal that wasn’t an option to take off the table,” Halpin said. “We would never have considered not being LEED-certified.”

Halpin said LEED certification went “hand-in-hand” with the educational goals of the center.

“The whole mission of PEREC is about water conservation and learning more about how the climate and how the people impact the water quality,” Halpin said. “So how could we design a building to do that type of research and not do everything we could to make it a sustainable place to be?”

Featured image courtesy of Mason Facilities.