McCollum Science Hall

McCollum Science Hall


In the middle 1950s, representatives of the Board of Regents and Iowa private colleges met to begin to think seriously about the shape of higher education in the state for the next ten years.  They knew that they faced the usual problems of aging facilities, but they also were beginning to understand how the generation of Baby Boomers would affect colleges and universities.  Marshall Beard represented the Iowa State Teachers College (now the University of Northern Iowa) at these deliberations.  Mr. Beard, whose served as the ISTC Registrar, reported on his perceptions of upcoming changes at a Phi Delta Kappa meeting in July 1956.  He foresaw that the two year teacher education curriculum would disappear and that the graduate program would grow.  He believed that classes would be lengthened and that Saturday classes would be scheduled.  He believed that the oldest college buildings, Central Hall, Old Gilchrist Hall, and the Old Administration Building, would be razed.  Physical education facilities would move across Hudson Road.  New buildings would include a library and a music building.  There would also need to be additions to the Auditorium Building (now Lang Hall) and the Science Building (now Physics Building).

Marshall Beard
Marshall Beard.

Marshall Beard's vision was clear.  Most of what he predicted did indeed happen, though not quite as quickly as he predicted.  Some of what he foresaw has only recently been completed.  For example, the shift of physical education and athletics facilities to the west edge of campus took almost fifty years to bring to completion.  Other things happened more quickly.  For example, construction on the new music building, Russell Hall, began in 1960 and work on the Rod Library began in 1963.

McCollum Science Hall drawing
Science Building architectural drawing, 1966.

By 1962, the idea of an addition to the old Science Building had been modified into a plan for a whole new building with a budget of $1.775 million.  "Unit I of a new science building" was included in the Regents capital budget for 1963-1964.  In December 1963 the Regents approved a $1.294 million budget for the new building; in January 1964 they granted authority to negotiate architectural services for the building.  The building would be air conditioned and located west of what is now called Gilchrist Hall. The building would be constructed in three or perhaps four phases. The college would ask for funding for Unit II of the new Science Building in the upcoming session of the General Assembly.  By September 1964 the site had been shifted to the area south of Seerley and Sabin Halls in order to keep the new building closer to the already existing instructional buildings.

McCollum Science Hall model
Science Building architectural model, 1967.

In February 1965 the Regents gave the college permission to amend architectural plans to include Unit II with the hope that the General Assembly would approve an additional $897,000 for construction and $250,000 for equipment.  Thorson-Brom-Broshar-Snyder Architects of Waterloo designed the building.  Legislative action ultimately did result in a total of $2.444 million for the construction of the new science building.  In March 1966 the Regents approved construction contracts for the building:  the general contractor was Henkel Construction Company of Mason City, the electrical contractor was See Electric of Waterloo, and the mechanical contractor was the Hagen Company of Sioux City.

Faculty and officials hoped that the new building would allow at least some of the large Department of Science, not yet differentiated into the individual sciences, to be brought together from scattered campus locations.  Professor Dixon Riggs, chair of the science building planning committee organized in 1960, hoped that the new building would "be the best science building available for study in the Midwest."  There would be three levels.  The bottom level would include lecture rooms and biology laboratories, including space for an electron microscope to be funded by the federal government.  The middle level would include a large lecture room and more life sciences laboratories.  The top level would house chemistry classrooms and laboratories.  Overall, the building would house twenty-six laboratories and thirty staff offices.

In March 1966 the Regents approved a construction budget of $3.581 million to reflect a federal grant already received for Unit I and an anticipated grant for Unit II.  Construction began that spring.

McCollum Science Hall construction
Under construction, 1967.

By the beginning of the fall semester, at least some students voiced their concern about the location and architectural style of the new building.  Why was it jammed so close to other buildings and why did it have no windows?  President Maucker and members of the science faculty responded.  The location kept the science classes close to other instructional buildings; it was part of an overall plan to keep the campus compact.  And the building had no windows for two significant reasons:  first, this design would provide more interior wall and facilities space; and second, interior environmental conditions would be more easily controlled, a critical factor for scientific work.  Faculty and officials would need to explain the windowless feature of their new building many, many times.

Auditorium seating construction
Science Building auditorium seating under construction, 1967.

By May 1967, the building was about one-third done with an anticipated completion date set for fall 1968.  By May 1968, construction was almost done and equipment was being moved into the new building.  Some parts of the building were used during the summer 1968 session, even though the air conditioning system was not yet available.  The building was complete for the fall 1968 term.

McCollum Science Hall
Science Building nearing completion, 1968.

Science faculty were happy with their new building and the approximately $1 million worth of new equipment.  Clifford McCollum, Dean of the College of Natural Sciences, said, "Faculty members and students alike have made favorable comments."  Professor Riggs said, "The acoustics and seating arrangements are so good now that students are more eager to attend classes.  Attendance is higher and the morale of the faculty is better, too."

McCollum Science Hall classroom

All chemistry classes and about 75% of biology classes were held in the new building.  However, in an interesting sidelight, there was hope that all science classes would eventually be housed in or near the new building.  There apparently were plans to construct a "physics tower" east of the new building and an addition on the west side of the building to house a museum and classrooms for geology and science education.  But this was another instance of phantom facilities on the UNI campus that never quite came to be.

John Downey
Professor John Downey lectures in C. W. Lantz Auditorium.

On March 7, 1969, the new Science Building was dedicated.  George Wells Beadle, who won the 1958 Nobel Prize in physiology and medicine for his research on genetic chemistry, spoke at the dedication.

Dedication ceremony
George Wells Beadle speaks at the
dedication ceremony, March 7, 1969.

He said that "man's most important and significant potential for improving society lies in the area of cultural evolution" and that "cultural evolution can be more readily controlled, unlike biological evolution where man's genetic makeup is determined from birth."  He went on to say that "man can shape his society and direct the evolution of plants and animals."  Dean McCollum and President Maucker also spoke.  John Schulze, an art professor at the University of Iowa, designed the photographic mosaic of the life sciences near the large lecture room.

C. W. Lantz
C. W. Lantz.

On June 12, 1976, the Science Building auditorium was dedicated to honor C. W. Lantz, former head of the Department of Science.  Professor Lantz, who served on the faculty from 1921 through 1957, attended the ceremony, which was followed by a reception and dinner.  Also in 1976 Professor M. B. Smith donated a ten inch telescope, which was mounted in a rooftop observatory on the Science Building in 1979.

In April 1984, the Regents named the Science Building in honor of Clifford G. McCollum:  the building would be known as McCollum Science Hall.  Professor McCollum served on the faculty from 1949 until his retirement June 30, 1984.  He was head of the Department of Science from 1957 through 1968 and then Dean of the newly-organized College of Natural Sciences from 1968 through 1984.  In requesting the name change, President Constantine Curris noted "the deep and abiding respect which Dean McCollum commands in the University community . . . ."

Clifford G. McCollum
Clifford G. McCollum.

McCollum Science Hall served the campus well, but increasing enrollments in the sciences put pressure on the facilities.  In 1993 the Regents put a $4.8 million addition to the building onto their list of capital requests.  In 1995 the university received a $330,000 National Science Foundation grant to renovate its chemistry and environmental science facilities.  The grant targeted six classrooms for improvement.  The work would include ventilation hoods, laboratory benches, and cold rooms.  By late 1999, the McCollum Science Hall addition, which would just about double the size of the existing building, had risen to the top of UNI's capital improvement list.  The budget for the work was estimated at $16.9 million.  A group of students travelled to Des Moines in February 2000 to lobby the General Assembly to fund the project.  The project was funded, and, as a bonus, the Roy J. Carver Charitable Trust donated $1 million to purchase instruments and equipment.

New addiction construction
McCollum Science Hall addition under construction, 2001.

The addition would be west of the existing building, projecting into an extremely convenient gated parking lot, much coveted by some faculty and staff members.  Construction began on October 22, 2001, with completion scheduled for fall 2003.  The project was completed on time.

McCollum Science Hall under construction
Under construction, 2002.

The university scheduled a dedication ceremony for the McCollum Science Hall addition for October 10, 2003.  Speakers included President Koob, former Dean McCollum, and others.  Dean McCollum said, "I am proud of the associations I have had with Iowa, UNI, this building, and individual faculty, staff, and students.  You are the salt of the earth.  You deserve this facility.  And I know you'll make it glow."

Dedication ceremony
Dedication ceremony, October 10, 2003.

Dean McCollum also commented, in a humorous aside, on the number of windows in the new addition in contrast to the windowless original building.  He said, "I wish that (former chemistry faculty member) Leland Wilson could be here today.  Then I could tell him that he could finally have an office with a window."

Dedication ceremony
Clifford McCollum greets former Lieutenant Governor Joy Corning (left)
and Professor Darrel Davis (right) at dedication ceremony, October 10, 2003.

Professors Barbara Hetrick and Paul Rider both praised the new facilities for fostering better teaching and improved research.  The 64,000 square foot addition features nine laboratories, four lecture/classrooms, sixteen student/faculty research laboratories, and twenty-four offices.

Paul Rider
Professor Paul Rider speaks at the
dedication ceremony, October 10, 2003.


Compiled by Library Assistant Susan Witthoft; edited by University Archivist Gerald L. Peterson, July 1996; substantially revised by Gerald L. Peterson, with research assistance by Student Assistant Jordan Ockerman and scanning by Library Assistant Gail Briddle, January 2004; last updated, November 8, 2011 (GP).


Rod Library Special Collections and University Archives
University of Northern Iowa
Cedar Falls, Iowa 50613-3675
Telephone: (319)-273-6307
Fax: (319)-273-2913
Email: Gerald.Peterson@uni.edu