The Biological Sciences Building and Buller Building Grand Opening
by Maureen Paisley
Posted: 3 February 2012

The Grand Opening

On January 27, 2012, the University of Manitoba celebrated the Grand Opening of the Biological Sciences Building and the Buller Building redevelopment.  For the official opening, The Honourable Greg Selinger, Premier of Manitoba, and The Honourable Vic Toews, Minister of Public Safety, Government of Canada, participated in the ceremonies; the University of Manitoba representatives included, Dr. David Barnard, President and Vice-Chancellor, Dr. Mark Whitmore, Dean, Faculty of Science, and Dr. Gary Anderson, Associate Head, Biological Sciences. 

The Biological Science Building

The Biological Sciences Building entails a $13.26 M renovation that converted the 30,000 sq. ft. former pharmacy building to an upgraded modern Biological Sciences research and teaching facility.  The building now accommodates six new research labs, two new lecture rooms and five new teaching labs.

According to Biological Sciences’ Anderson, “The teaching facilities have led to the expansion of two of the largest courses in the Department, first-year Anatomy and Physiology.  These courses serve as prerequisites for the nursing program here at the UM and elsewhere and have and will continue to act as keystone courses for the majority of practicing nurses in the province of Manitoba.”

The Biological Sciences department has 38 faculty members teaching a wide variety of courses ranging from molecular genetics to population ecology.  The new BSB will provide classroom and laboratory space for in excess of 3,000 students taking courses on an annual basis that not only includes students from the Faculty of Science but also University 1, the Faculties of Agriculture, Arts, Engineering, Kinesiology and Recreation Management and the Clayton H. Riddell Faculty of Environment, Earth, and Resources, to name a few.

Rejuvenating Biological Sciences

Since the inception of the Biological Science Department, in 2007, there has been a rejuvenation process that has provided the Department and the University with teaching and research facilities that lead to an exceptional student experience. 

Anderson explains: “This experience is not just down to facilities, we also need people and here in the Department of Biological Sciences I believe we are blessed with teaching faculty, many of whom have internationally-recognized research programs that deliver modern, leading-edge, innovative undergraduate and graduate courses with a passion and drive that nurtures innovators, trailblazers and visionaries for the future well-being of this province.”

As part of the Grand Opening, the redevelopment of the Buller Building was also celebrated.  Whereas the former Pharmacy Building was vacant for the renovations, the Buller Building was in continual use during its various construction phases.  According to Dean Whitmore, “this massive undertaking has been 10 years in the making.  I am proud to say that we have now transformed a grand 1932 Collegiate Gothic style building into a facility with state-of-the-art teaching and research labs in Microbiology and Biological Sciences.”

The Buller Building Redevelopment

The Buller Building redevelopment began in 2001, and the extensive list of items that have been upgraded include the sewer, the roof, new fume hood fans and ducts, a new basement floor and pilings, new windows, new heating system, a sprinkler system, new ventilation system, new research labs and new teaching labs.

This list, though extensive, disguises the myriad complexities involved with the renovation of an active research and teaching facility of Buller’s age and character.  For example, in 2001, work began on renovations to research labs for Drs. Hausner and Oresnik only to reveal significant problems with sewer line under the basement corridor. 

This project was the real beginning of the Buller saga.

The Buller Saga

Replacing the sewer took place over two years and involved digging a six-foot trench in the basement involving jackhammers, diesel-powered backhoes, dust, debris and diesel fumes all affecting personnel, clogging equipment filters and contaminating growth media.  The Buller inhabitants survived the upheaval and disruptions, but more excitement was in store for them.

In January 2004, the basement floor on the south side of the corridor started to sink and lab benches began to warp, walls began to crack.  The sinking floor was a result of a void discovered beneath the basement floor that would inevitably suggest further sinking.  To fix this unanticipated problem, walls had to be demolished, the concrete floor removed, piles installed and a new floor poured all while classes and research projects were underway!

Renovations continued, new labs were constructed, state-of-the art equipment purchased.  Then in 2009, the Duff Roblin fire resulted in a whole new level of congestion with many of the Duff Roblin research groups being relocated into labs and offices in Buller - not to mention the trailers behind the Elizabeth Dafoe Library.

The Buller Building Today

The Buller Building today is a greatly transformed facility housing equipment such as the protein X-ray diffractometer and facilities such as brand new research labs, a new microscope facility to accommodate the new confocal microscope and teaching labs.  It is home to both the Microbiology Department and part of the Biological Sciences Department.

Buller now has a comfortable work environment that is free of drafts around ill-fitting windows.  It is air-conditioned in the summer and heated in the winter.  In the Microbiology part of the building, all but one of the research laboratory and one teaching lab have been fully renovated or upgraded to a common standard that will support researchers and students for many years into the future.  With ample lab space that is well-designed and equipped, researchers and students in Buller will be supported by excellent infrastructure.

The Biological Sciences part of the building also continues its rejuvenation; the project initially falling under the care of Dr. Tom Booth, and currently, under Dr. Jim Hare, Associate Head.  As it now stands, there remain three research labs and one teaching lab that are priorities for upgrading. 

Converting an historic building into a modern research and teaching facility is not for the faint of heart. All faculty members in Buller must be commended for maintaining their research and teaching programs despite being subjected to continual disruptions and moves. 

The Future

Currently the Department of Biological Sciences would like to replace the “temporary greenhouse” built in the 1960’s adjacent to the Buller Building.  As Anderson said at the Grand Opening, “botanical research is a key aspect of Biological Sciences and with the outdated greenhouse the student and research experience is limited.  The Department would like to develop a facility that would not only serve as a state of the art research and teaching facility, but also as a centerpiece on the Fort Garry Campus.” 

To attract and retain world-class researchers, to keep our students in the province and to participate in the research we need as a modern society, we need the facilities and the infrastructure to undertake this very important work.

As Dean Whitmore said at the Grand Opening: “Prior to the establishment of the University, the brightest and best travelled afar for their education.  Often they did not return.  Retaining the brightest and best is something we are able to continue today, thanks to the funding of world-class facilities.”

But cutting-edge science is a demanding, unrelenting, task-master; change, renovation and rejuvenation are integral to its very nature: a process that never ends.

Cutting the ribbon, l-r: Dr. Mark Whitmore, Dean, Faculty of Science; Dr. Gary Anderson, Associate Head, Biological Sciences; The Honourable Vic Toews, Minister of Public Safety, Government of Canada; Dr. David Barnard, President and Vice-Chancellor; The Honourable Greg Selinger, Premier of Manitoba, The Honourable Erin Selby, Minister of Advanced Education and Literacy; Mr. Rod Bruinooge, Member of Parliament for Winnipeg South.

Dr. Mark Whitmore, Dean, Faculty of Science

Dr.Gary Anderson, Associate Head, Biological Sciences

Buller Building Renovations October 2010

Installing footings in Buller October 2010