Shady Side Academy opens $11 million science center

TAWNYA PANIZZI | Friday, May 18, 2018

Shady Side Academy has a new, brick-and-glass science lab that puts college-level equipment in the hands of high school students.

“Not many high school labs have this type of equipment,” Science Department Chair Joe Martens said.

Martens previously taught and studied genetic research at the University of Pittsburgh.

“When our kids go on to study science in college, this is the kind of equipment and methodology they’ll be using.”

The $11 million McIlroy Center for Science and Innovation opened May 18 on the Fox Chapel campus of Shady Side Academy Senior School with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and student-led tours.

The 22,000-square-foot, U-shaped building will house 10 flex spaces for physics, biology and chemistry; space for research and collaboration; faculty offices. An outdoor amphitheater can be used for classes, lectures and events.

Classes will fill the building beginning in fall. It will serve about 460 high school students.

The center sits along the campus entrance as the cornerstone of a new academic quad with McCune Library, Hunt Hall and Rowe Hall.

It is the most recent addition to the 130-acre campus off Fox Chapel Road.

Aimed at enhancing the inquiry-based approach to the science curriculum, the lab will allow SSA to better support independent research. A special projects room sits adjacent to the faculty office suite, separated by a glass partition, giving students supervised access to research space throughout the day, with storage for long-term projects, said Jen Roupe, director of communications.

Lab equipment includes a gas chromatography machine, which separates individual chemicals from complex mixtures; a mass spectrometer, which identifies the chemical and determines its quantity; a nuclear magnetic resonance machine; real-time polymerase chain reaction machine, which can make many copies of a very small sample of DNA; a fluorescent microscope; a scanning electron microscope and a lab freezer that can reach -80 degrees Celsius.

“The McIlroy Center is a huge improvement to the existing science facilities located in the basement of Rowe and Memorial halls,” Roupe said.

Science classes currently share one large, 1970s-era lab. Classrooms are separate from the lab, which limits teachers’ ability to move from concept to demonstration, Roupe said.

“The new flexible learning spaces serve as classroom and lab in one, allowing teachers to present a concept and move right to demonstration,” she said.

Sustainable features are expected to reduce environmental impact while creating teaching opportunities. They include a rain garden to collect storm runoff and rooftop solar panels that supply electricity.

Construction began in May 2017 and was designed by Frederick Fisher & Partners of Los Angeles. Strada was the local and construction architect and PJ Dick oversaw construction.

The projects caps a four-year plan to upgrade science facilities across SSA’s campuses, with the middle school’s three science labs renovated and the junior school’s science lab expanded into a suite of five new labs.