By Nickolas Bray, Staff Writer 

In early December, the long awaited renovations to UMF’s Preble Hall and Ricker Hall were completed. After several months of construction and unusable classrooms, many of the two building’s lecture and laboratory spaces were updated and modernized. It’s back to business as usual for the Department of Natural Sciences, as classes begin for the spring semester.

The $1.4 million project, approved by the University of Maine System Board of Trustees in July 2014, renovated over 6500 feet of classroom space. For most of these spaces, this is the first time they have seen a major renovation since the two buildings opened over 50 years ago.

This project was funded in part by a bond measure approved by Maine voters in 2013. The measure passed with 60 percent in favor of the $15 million bond for funds to improve classroom and laboratory space at all seven system campuses.

Biology professor Nancy Prentiss was one of the many faculty members pleased with the new renovations.

“The new biology labs on the first floor of Preble are clean, updated and have more room to move around in,” Prentiss said. “The old labs were crowded and hard to move around in. The basic infrastructure of the labs is greatly improved.”

Preble Hall, built in 1961, received renovations to three laboratories on the first floor, including the Anatomy and Physiology lab. Ricker Hall, built in 1962, saw the renovation of seven classrooms and laboratories, on the second and third floor of the building.

The renovations have increased the usability and efficiency of the available space. The labs are more open, and there is an increase in storage for classroom materials. Additionally, the renovations brought labs up to standard with the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Junior Sumaya Hamdi, a geology major, shared similar feelings to Prentiss while expressing her excitement with the updated spaces.

“The new cabinets and tables are my favorite feature of the new labs,” said Hamdi. “There is more space for storage and organization of rock sample trays. The new labs are more streamlined and modern, especially the third floor computer lab.”

Before the project could begin, materials from classrooms needed to be moved to storage. “Biologists are hoarders, we are great collectors,” Prentiss said. “We had collections of shells, sea urchins and starfish, plant models, all kinds of bones and skulls, you name it we’ve got it squirreled away from the past 55 years. It took a lot of time to package them up in a safe way, and label them such that we would be able to find things again.”

It was originally expected that the labs and classrooms would be complete and ready before the start of the fall 2015 semester; however, due to unforeseen circumstances, the project was delayed by three months. The business contracted with producing the new lab benches had a major fire at its production facility. As a result, the lab benches were not available until November.

During this time, students and faculty had no choice but to adapt to construction occurring during the day. The classrooms that did not see renovation were modified to be able to accommodate the needs of the laboratory sections of many courses.

“I asked facilities to help me with running a maze of extension cords throughout the room in a safe way so we could plug in 20 microscopes for five weeks,” Prentiss said. “We were able to do it, and the students were very patient.”

This is the second major renovation to Preble Hall in the last decade. In 2009 renovations occurred to two of the building’s chemistry labs, as well as the installation of an energy efficient wall on the exterior of the building.