A sweeping effort to improve campus spaces for the College of Human Sciences experienced a major success this month when the Iowa Board of Regents approved $5.3 million in renovations to the Forker Building. The board’s decision was unanimous.
Changes to Forker will include converting an old and largely unused men’s locker room into faculty offices, remodeling outdated restroom facilities, and replacing inefficient air handlers.
This new investment adds to a smaller renovation that entered the planning stages last summer. Construction on the smaller project, which will convert an outdated women’s locker room into state-of-the-art laboratory space, will begin in May of this year.
Warren Franke, a kinesiology professor who is on the Forker renovation committee, said remodels to Forker aren’t a want for the kinesiology program but a need.
“This renovation, in my mind, will enable us as a department to do our jobs better,” Franke said.
It’s expected that architectural drawings for the major renovation will be made this spring with construction starting in the fall. The remodeled spaces should be complete in 2017.
Meeting the demands of a burgeoning field of study
The Forker Building is home base to Iowa State’s thriving Department of Kinesiology, which boasts around 1,384 undergraduate majors this academic year — making it the third-largest major at the university, behind pre-business and mechanical engineering.
“Undergraduate enrollment in kinesiology has increased exponentially,” said Jennifer Plagman-Galvin, director of operations for the College of Human Sciences.
This high enrollment demands more faculty — but not just any faculty. The college wants to attract the best faculty possible — competitive scientists performing at the tops of their fields.
“We need to have the facilities for them to do their research,” Plagman-Galvin said.
The Forker Building was originally built in 1940 when kinesiology was simply known as physical education, or P.E., and an addition to the building came in 1971. Since then, scientific advancements have changed the field dramatically.
It’s now common for kinesiologists to use high-tech equipment to measure the effects of various exercises on many aspects of health. These kinds of studies require up-to-date spaces where vital signs, body composition, and blood — among other statistics — can be precisely analyzed.
The smaller renovation will create such spaces — exam and exercise rooms where kinesiology faculty can privately and comfortably assess participants in advanced fitness studies, Franke said.
The larger renovations will address the need for faculty and staff office space. As more and more students major in kinesiology, more faculty will be needed.
“We don’t have enough office space for the faculty we have,” Franke said. “Because we have about 1,400 undergraduates, we’re going to need more faculty.”
Taking research to the next level
Duck-Chul Lee and Robin Shook, assistant professors in kinesiology who both joined Iowa State’s faculty within the past three years, will be taking immediate advantage of the renovated space once it’s complete.
Lee researches the effects of strength training, such as lifting weights, on long-term health. But he’s restricted by his current research space in the corner of a large Forker gymnasium that is shared among many students, staff, and faculty.
“They’re generous to share this space,” Lee said. “But when there’s a class in this space, we can’t have any research participants here.”
With dedicated, private laboratory space, Lee can vastly expand the scope of his research. The ability to include more participants in his studies will increase the efficacy and impact of his studies.
“We want to have more study participants, so we can’t have only two hours of access per day,” he said.
Shook, an Iowa State alumnus who went to work at a different research facility after graduating, was drawn back to his alma mater by the promise of a revamped Forker.
Like Lee, Shook researches the effect of exercise on health. To optimize his studies, he said he needs dedicated lab space.
“That’s exactly what they’re doing with the renovations here,” Shook said.
The ability of new faculty members like Lee and Shook to engage in top-of-the-line research will directly benefit Iowa State students, as well.
When elite faculty have the facilities to perform cutting-edge research, they can bring their research to their students, creating state-of-the-art classes, Plagman-Galvin said.