Published: Oct. 20, 1997

EDITORS: A media tour of the Benson Earth Sciences Building led by Miller will be at 10 a.m. Oct. 28 starting at the building’s west entrance. A complete schedule of Oct. 30 dedication events is attached.

A new $14.5 million geology building at the University of Colorado at Boulder should help change outdated perceptions about geologists, says department chair Gifford Miller.

Contrary to what many people believe, modern geology isn't done just by people in khaki pants banging on rocks with a hammer, he says.

The 84,000-square-foot Benson Earth Sciences Building to be dedicated Oct. 30 features an 11,000-square-foot library, a 173-seat auditorium and seven state-of-the-art laboratory-classrooms.

The five-story building will have a 24-station computer laboratory, a 75-seat lecture hall, library carrels with outlets for plugging in laptop computers, a hydrology laboratory and two "smart" classrooms designed for using computers in teaching. The entire building is equipped with fiber optic wiring.

Located on the south side of Colorado Avenue near the football stadium, an entrance archway leads to a four-story-high atrium displaying a stone clock and large slabs of rock from three continents. A 300-pound garnet-laden rock donated by the Smithsonian Institution will be displayed on a grand staircase leading from the atrium to the second floor.

The building is named for Bruce Benson, a 1964 graduate of the department and 1994 Colorado gubernatorial candidate who contributed generously and led the effort to raise $5.3 million from alumni, friends and faculty. The Jerry Crail Johnson Earth Sciences Library is named for the mother of two CU-Boulder alumni, Eric and Alan Johnson, who also donated significantly to the project through the Crail-Johnson Foundation.

Faculty will begin moving into the building in November and classes are scheduled to begin in January.

"This building is the culmination of 30 years of effort to have an adequate space for geology programs, and for the first time in 50 years we will be bringing all the aspects of our discipline under one roof with the infrastructure we need to do modern science,” Miller said.

"The public image is way behind what we do. Geology has evolved from a descriptive discipline into a highly sophisticated and analytical science requiring specially designed laboratories and an array of high-technology equipment used to address real-world problems."

Some of the geologic research being done by CU faculty includes three-dimensional imaging of oil fields, climate change modeling, analysis of exotic crystals formed under high pressure in the earth's interior and the analysis of rare earth isotopes in a "clean room" built without the tiniest amount of iron.

The department of geological sciences has been housed in the current Geology Building since 1911. In 1969 the building was declared "functionally obsolete" by the Colorado Commission on Higher Education.

With 27 professors, CU-Boulder has one of the country's largest geology departments. It currently serves about 110 undergraduate majors, 130 graduate students and about 3,000 non-majors each year.

Environmental studies is now the third most popular undergraduate major on campus and many of those 560 students minor in geology, Miller said. The department created space for the environmental studies office in the new building, expecting that interactions between the two groups of students would be beneficial to both programs.

The new building will more than double the department's 20,000 square feet of available space to slightly more than 40,000. The Earth Sciences Library, which now occupies 2,400 square feet, will more than quadruple. The new library will house 45,000 books on moveable, space-saving shelves and the map collection from Norlin Library.

Geology faculty members were heavily involved in designing the new building. Faculty offices will be clustered in groups of three to four opening onto common work spaces to encourage interaction. Most offices will be linked by four of the five balconies on the south side of the building, providing added space for informal discussion.

“We wanted to promote interaction among the faculty, undergraduates and graduate students so we created inviting spaces where people can meet casually for the kind of interaction that is so important in science today,” Miller said.

The south side of the building will feature a patio area and tables for informal student-faculty interaction. Artwork to be located there, "The Arrow of Time" by Elaine Calzolari, will allow visitors the experience of walking through geologic time represented by rock from different eras.

Undergraduate geology majors were consulted on what they wanted in a new building and decided to use some of their student fees to designate part of it for themselves.

"What they wanted was a home away from home," Miller said. A student lounge with a microwave oven and a computer terminal has been set up and every geology major will have a locker to store books and other personal items.

Rock samples will be stored on moveable shelves in the basement with 8,000 square feet of unfinished space for expansion.

Faculty members are excited about the new building and expect student enrollment in geology classes to increase as a result of the new facility. "This building is our recruiting tool," Miller said.

Built with sandstone and a red tile roof in the rural Italian architectural style of the campus, the Benson Earth Sciences Building is clearly a University of Colorado structure but has its own distinctive features.

The four-member campus building committee consisted of Miller, Associate Professor Lang Farmer, librarian Suzanne Larsen and construction liaison Pam Topping. The building was designed by the Denver architectural firm of Anderson Mason Dale, the same firm that designed Tropical Discovery at the Denver Zoo and a 1990 addition to the CU-Boulder Chemistry Building.