New Chemistry Labs a Catalyst for Learning

State-of-the-Art Labs Ready for Students


Chemistry is a hands-on discipline and with newly renovated state-of-the-art labs opening this spring at Selkirk College, students enter an exciting new era of learning.

The two old chemistry labs on the Castlegar Campus were well-maintained and functional but dated back 50 years to the original construction of the college. They were in dire need of a renovation and now with $875,000 invested in the labs, learning is enhanced and a safe, inviting environment welcomes students.

“They looked like the set from a 1950s sci-fi movie,” says David Feldman, Dean of the School of University Arts and Sciences. “We needed to bring our facilities into the 21st century.”

Selkirk College’s two chemistry labs saw a major upgrade this year.

Selkirk College’s two chemistry labs saw a major upgrade this year. With $875,000 invested in the labs that dated back to the original construction of the college, they offer a more inviting learning environment with enhanced safety and capacity for a growing student body. The Selkirk College maintenance crew who helped make it happen gathered with faculty and administration to mark the achievement.

With growing interest in Selkirk College’s Engineering, Sciences and Rural Pre-Medicine programs, extra capacity was also sought to accommodate greater enrollments, Feldman says.

“We were finding our science facilities stretched to the limits,” he says.

Selkirk College Chemistry instructor Elizabeth Lund says that one of the greatest limitations of the old labs was the fume hoods – there were too few of them and they were outdated.

“It was getting prohibitively expensive to run some of our courses because of the lab facilities,” she says. “The quality of the fans and the age of the fans were a big part of that.”

Overcoming Obstacles for Forge Ahead

It was with these fume hoods in mind, that Ron Zaitsoff, Director of Facilities started applying for funds. The chemistry lab renovation had been proposed for a number of years but capital had been difficult to secure. With his eye on Ministry of Advanced Education funding trends, Zaitsoff got creative.

“I saw that the Ministry was funding more basic mechanical or electrical upgrades and so I applied to replace the fume hoods and was successful,” he says. “That started it all for us.”

Zaitsoff also applied to replace and upgrade the plumbing and was again successful.

“We were at the point where we were doing the fume hoods and the plumbing so we might as well do the entire lab,” he says. “It was in a bit of a piece meal fashion but it worked.”

Further ministry funding became available and Zaitsoff was also able to shift money saved on other major Selkirk College capital projects to the chemistry lab.

The project was put out to tender with only one bid coming in at about $200,000 higher than what Zaitsoff knew his crew could manage.

“The only way we were able to effectively spend the money and still get the labs renovated was to do the work ourselves,” he says. “We decided to bite the bullet and take on the job.”

Prior to the renovation, the Selkirk College chemistry labs were outdated with very few modifications since the Castlegar Campus opened in 1966.

Prior to the renovation, the Selkirk College chemistry labs were outdated with very few modifications since the Castlegar Campus opened in 1966.

Financially, an entire redo was now possible.

“Once you start in a room for renovation it’s so much easier to do it all and then get out of there with it done,” he says. “And for our guys it’s far more efficient and productive. You are set up, all your tools there and you just do it.  Now we don’t have to go back in there for years and years to come.”

During construction maintaining a learning environment was a challenge. Zaitsoff and his crew worked with the School of Arts and Sciences to find temporary chemistry lab space in Physics labs and Biology labs. The move wasn’t easy.

“There’s a ton of glass ware and instrumentation and it took nearly two weeks for the faculty assistants and students to get it all cleared out and packed away properly,” he says.

The renovation started in June 2015 with asbestos removal a first priority. Nearly $100,000 was spent ensuring the health and safety of the spaces for faculty and students. It was a big challenge, says Zaitsoff.

“It hadn’t been harming students but it’s something we don’t want in the college,” he says.

The labs were completely gutted, and in one room, a wall was removed to increase floor space. New fume hoods and ventilation equipment were installed along with new plumbing. All cabinetry was replaced with specialty birch and countertops are brand new on workbenches now movable for greater flexibility. Sound board on the walls was changed and new flooring was added. Modifications were also made to the space between the two labs to create a chemical preparation room, an invaluable addition for students and the faculty assistants who do the majority of the prep work.

The old labs had 10 fume hoods. Now, there are 14 new modern hoods with flow sensors and alarms to ensure enough air passes through to exhaust fumes properly.

“That’s a feature we never had before,” he says.

The labs also now have an emergency gas shut-off feature.

“If students use Bunsen burners or natural gas and something terrible happens and it catches fire or falls over, there are emergency stops at every exit door so you just punch a button and it shuts off the gas flow to the lab,” he says.

Vibrant Atmosphere Gives Sense of Satisfaction

The labs now also have greater wheel chair accessibility and feature glass doors and windows to “open them up and make them bright and airy,” says Zaitsoff.

During construction, the maintenance crew of Bob Kalmakoff, Steve Perepelkin, Mike Giesler, Shawn Denny, Paul Makortoff, Dan Saliken, Allen Chernenkoff, Ashley Popoff, Rick Tatangelo were stretched as they continued maintaining the rest of the college. But it was well worth the effort, Zaitsoff says.

“There is a lot of pride and a sense of satisfaction because it’s a once in a life time opportunity. The labs won’t be renovated again now for decades.”

Lund says the new atmosphere is wonderful and she looks forward to years of teaching in the renovated labs. In their first two years of study, Selkirk College students say they have had access to equipment such as UV-Vis spectrometers, GC, pH probes and analytical balances, and instruction that takes them further than those studying at larger institutions. The new lab space has allowed this to continue in a greater capacity, says Lund.

“I’m excited for students to have a space that’s vibrant and modern and makes them want to be in it,” says Lund. “I’m thankful for the workmen who put love into the project with every little detail cared for.”

Lab K-12 opened for Pharmacy Technician Program students this April and Lab K-16 will welcome students in September.


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