A new building on north campus will create more direct connections to the historic Quad while opening a path to sustainable practices in chemistry education at Northern Arizona University.

The five-level, 118,000-square-foot Science and Health Building ultimately will house classrooms, lecture halls, offices, research modules and teaching labs to support NAU’s chemistry programs and the Center for Science Teaching and Learning.

Construction of the $71.3 million building began last week, and it will open to students in fall 2015.

As enrollment in science-related curricula continues to increase dramatically at NAU, the need to create additional space for students taking chemistry courses became more acute, explained Agnes Drogi, NAU director of Planning, Design and Construction for Facility Services. The modern structure will emphasize sustainability and energy efficiency, said Drogi, pointing out its conformity to LEED Silver standards. In addition, teaching labs will focus on the use of non-toxic alternatives to the chemicals traditionally used in the past.

Provost Laura Huenneke noted that goals established by the Arizona Board of Regents call both for increased enrollment capacity and for a dramatic increase in each university’s research activities by 2020.

“Faculty and student research has been hampered by the lack of safe, modern facilities.” Huenneke said. “The new Science and Health Building will add sorely needed high-quality laboratory space as we work to expand research funding.”

Accommodating the building’s footprint will fulfill a portion of NAU’s master plan by easing the pedestrian transition from central to north campus. A pedway under the east elevation of the building provides a covered connection on the way to the Quad.

The V-shaped building includes a glass-sided atrium, within which offset bridges and balconies functionally ensure fire-life safety requirements while adding to the geode-like aesthetics.

Financing for the building comes from the second phase of bonds issued through lottery-backed SPEED funding first approved in 2008. Mortenson Construction is coordinating the project.