The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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April 23, 2014

SLIDE SHOW: Moving day for biology and chemistry building at Pittsburg State

PITTSBURG, Kan. — They didn’t all go two-by-two, and the person in charge wasn’t named Noah, but nonetheless, critters of all shapes and sizes were on the move Wednesday.

Students, volunteers and staff members helped Delia Lister, director of Nature Reach, relocate everything from a pair of prairie dogs to a vocal macaw named Charlie so that Heckert-Wells Hall — the biology and chemistry building where they are housed on the campus of Pittsburg State University — can undergo a $4.4 million transformation in the coming months.

“This is way more complicated than moving what’s in a person’s house,” Lister said as she directed biology majors Kassidy Rethorst and Ashten Hall to hand-carry a ball python and a milk snake to nearby Hartman Hall.

Meanwhile, other students, volunteers and staffers set up cages and terrariums, ensuring that incoming animals would be comfortably and securely housed.

The prairie dogs knew something was up when the move began, Lister observed, and Charlie the macaw alternated between being standoffish and squawking loudly.

“They all know,” Lister said. “Animals are very sensitive to anything out of the routine and to new surroundings. I’m just concerned about watching their health and how this might impact them.”

Cindy Ford, a professor of biology, wheeled the cage for the program’s tree-dwelling marsupial sugar gliders, but she stowed the animals themselves in a little pouch slung across her body. Doing so spared them a bumpy ride on sidewalks and through a maze of doors and hallways.

Not making the trip to the temporary Nature Reach space in Hartman Hall were four 40-gallon tanks of fish, and a 75-gallon tank that held a piranha. Last week, Lister drained and cleaned the tanks, and hauled the fish in buckets to Claw Paws, a local pet store.

“They’ve agreed to baby-sit — or pet-sit — them for us until we’re ready for them,” Lister said.

Heckert-Wells Hall was built in 1984, and it still uses its original heating, air conditioning and exhaust systems. An energy performance audit a few years ago determined that the mechanical system needed repair and the air conditioning needed to be replaced. It also said cost savings might be achieved by reducing the number of exhaust hoods.

The project is being paid for with money that PSU received in Rehabilitation and Repair Project Bonds from the Kansas Educational Building Fund set aside for Regents universities.

University officials said the project may take five months to complete, with work set to begin on Monday. But first, all elements of the three-story building, which also includes microbiology labs, chemistry labs, genetics labs, general biology labs, a herbarium and numerous faculty offices, had to find other homes.

Peter Chung, an associate professor of microbiology, said as he organized his new space that detailed planning and the dedication of the physical plant staff played a key role in a smooth transition.

“We began getting together with the physical plant the end of January to literally map out where everything would go,” Chung said.

Dixie Smith, chairwoman of the biology department, said programs such as Chung’s and Lister’s had power and space requirements that “couldn’t just fit into any room.”

Chung, for example, had to have room for between 24 and 32 students to have lab space, along with heavy equipment such as an autoclave, incubators, refrigerators and freezers, and specialized items such as chemicals and a still for distilling water.

And Lister, because she houses live animals, must abide by regulations set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“It must be very exacting,” Smith said. “The rest of us can just stow things in a closet and use them as needed.”

In the end, it will have been worth the effort, she said.

“An air circulation system and pressure is very important to a science building,” she said. “This will bring us up to a state-of-the-art system, and we’re very excited about that.”

The system also will include sensors that can make automatic adjustments as necessary.

“It’s a big investment, and our university should get credit for making that in our science programs,” Smith said.

Lister and others will make the return trip to Heckert-Wells Hall, animal by animal, cage by cage, a few weeks after school starts in the fall semester.

“First we’ll have our room painted and cleaned,” Lister said, “and then we hopefully will get settled back in and stay a good long while.”

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