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Mar 10, 2010 11:51 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Students flock to Stony Brook Southampton as campus looks to expand facilities

Mar 10, 2010 11:51 AM

When Stony Brook University purchased Southampton College for $35 million in 2006, the 81-acre Shinnecock Hills campus was a veritable ghost town. Only a handful of students remained after Long Island University effectively shuttered its undergraduate program there the year before, and many of the 42 buildings on the campus had fallen into disuse and disrepair.

But after four years of precipitous growth as a satellite campus of Stony Brook University, Stony Brook Southampton is looking to swell to nearly 800 students by next fall, after starting out with just 200 “pioneer” students in 2006. The school is planning to break ground on a number of construction projects, including an upgraded marine sciences research center and an experimental sewage treatment plant, in the next year to accommodate the influx of would-be scientists, conservationists and writers.

“Interest has suddenly taken off, so we can be more selective and still take on more students,” said Mary C. Pearl, the dean and administrative vice president of the campus.

The school has been working to forge an identity as a center for sustainability and environmental studies, while drawing on Southampton College’s long-standing reputation for its marine science program and graduate program in writing.

Dr. Pearl, a scientist and conservationist who was appointed to her position in 2009, said she expects the campus to eventually level out at between 1,800 and 2,000 students. But before it gets there, the school must revamp and expand facilities that Dr. Pearl said it is swiftly outgrowing.

The campus is already abuzz with the sounds of drills and saws, as workers refurbish rooms and buildings that became uninhabitable in the years since LIU left the campus behind, according to Darren Johnson, a spokesman for Stony Brook Southampton. And the face of the campus will continue to change in the coming months and years.

The school plans to break ground on a new $6.9 million marine sciences research center in late 2010 or early 2011, and expects to complete the work in the fall of 2011. The new facility will be built on 1.3 acres that now house the existing marine sciences research center, which sits along Old Fort Pond on Little Neck Road.

The new two-story, 8,000-square-foot structure will feature a “greatly expanded” wet lab for housing and researching living fish, sea grasses, crabs, shrimp and other marine life, according to David Conover, the dean of the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University. Dr. Conover said the new facility will also feature additional “state-of-the-art” classrooms and a greenhouse for studying plant life.

The 146 marine science majors, 137 marine vertebrate biology majors and 219 environmental science majors who split their time between Stony Brook Southampton and the main campus will take classes at the marine science research center, Dr. Conover said. The wet lab will deal almost exclusively with local species and Stony Brook Southampton’s marine sciences faculty will “focus most of their research on East End problems,” he added.

While Dr. Conover said the existing facility is “passable,” it is not befitting of the international institution that Stony Brook Southampton is striving to become.

“What we are designing now will be so much better than what we have already,” Dr. Conover said. He added that the school is currently in talks with architects about the plans.

In order to sustain a campus of up to 2,000 students, the school will also have to build a sewage treatment plant on the south part of the campus, where a cluster of mostly vacant buildings now stand. In line with the campus’ green theme, Stony Brook Southampton is planning to construct a facility that will, in part, employ the natural processes of microorganisms, plants and fish to filter wastewater.

Stony Brook University’s facilities department does not yet have a price estimate for the project because it is still being designed, according to Mr. Johnson. The work is expected to begin either late this year or early next year, and might be finished in 2012, according to Dr. Pearl.

Finally, the school is also planning to double the size of its 10,000-square-foot student center, which sits on the northern part of the campus on Peconic Hill Road. That project would cost $7.5 million, and create space for a lounge, student clubs, music practice rooms and other recreational facilities, as well as an office suite for the dean of students, according to Dr. Pearl. She said that Albany has approved the project, and Stony Brook Southampton has selected architects, although designs have not been finalized. Like the other two projects, the work on the student center is tentatively slated to begin in late 2010 or early 2011, and it should be finished in the spring of 2012, according to Dr. Pearl.

Stony Brook Southampton is also in the process of renovating two dormitory buildings that became uninhabitable after years of disuse, and will begin transforming a vacant building near the campus entrance on Tuckahoe Road into a welcome center and admissions office sometime this year.

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