Fresno State plans new ag center

Fresno State's agricultural college is preparing to spend $20 million to build a research center worthy of one of the state's most prominent programs.

The money -- drawn from last year's record $29.4 million donation from the Jordan family of the East Bay -- also could be leveraged for a bigger facility. That would pool similar research efforts in the Jordan College of Agricultural Sciences and Technology and the College of Science and Mathematics.

A larger building depends upon the success of a $15 million grant application pending before the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

Even a $20 million center will help pull together scant and scattered research space, offer room for specialized labs and equipment and create more opportunities for collaboration within the ag college, campus officials say. Any construction is more than a year away.

Charles Boyer, dean of the Jordan College, said bringing together researchers in one dedicated area creates many benefits.

"The synergy and serendipity of ideas and cooperation that come out of that are hard to measure, but I would expect it would be quite great," he said.

Gour Choudhury, director of the university's Center for Food Science and Nutrition Research, said the facility is long overdue. Choudhury, whose research topics include water use in the food processing industry, now works in a remodeled storage building.

The availability, size and suitability of research space has been a chronic problem -- one that a new center could help solve, he said.

"This is what we have been missing all of these years," Choudhury said.

Andrew Lawson, an entomology professor and chairman of the plant science department, conducts research in a small converted classroom. There are many reasons why such makeshift labs aren't ideal, he said.

Some equipment won't fit. Many rooms don't come with individual temperature controls, sinks or ventilation systems. Electrical connections often don't provide enough juice. And researchers can be isolated from their peers.

"You just can't take any empty room and do what you need to do there," he said.

Consolidation a key

David Zoldoske, director of the Center for Irrigation Technology on campus, said the water research group could work more closely if it weren't spread out in about five different buildings.

He said the new center would help collect those faculty and provide the large hall needed to accommodate forums and workshops on water issues.

Zoldoske and other campus faculty said the idea of a research center is relatively new for the 23-campus California State University system.

The CSU is the state's primary undergraduate teaching institution, but increasingly regards research as an important part of its mission.

CSU officials in Long Beach this week said no one was available to provide perspective on research facilities throughout the system. Boyer, the Fresno State ag dean, said he believed the new center would be one of the few dedicated research buildings in the CSU.

For all campuses, finding money for that type of construction has been a challenge.

For Fresno State's ag college, that problem eased last year when the Jordan family donated an eye-popping $29.4 million specifically to support ag-related research and facilities. The college was renamed in the family's honor.

Ag college officials decided to spend much of the gift on a research building, tentatively planned near Woodrow and Barstow avenues.

The new building could approach 50,000 square feet depending on the success of the $15 million grant application to build research space for the College of Science and Mathematics. Andrew Rogerson, dean of the college, said officials expect a decision on the construction funding request within a few months.

The grant requires a matching contribution that the Jordan money would provide, he said. Building integrated research space for the two colleges makes sense because many professors collaborate on research involving climate, air quality and water, for example.

In a single place, faculty could share ideas and equipment.

"It's very efficient and a very good way of making everyone pull together," Rogerson said. "The fit is perfect."

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