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Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute expansion under way

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Steve Monfort, director of SCBI, discusses training the next generation of conservation professionals. Dennis Grundman/Daily

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Michelle Waterman, a graduate of the Smithsonian-Mason program, talked about the benefits of her experience taking part in the program. Dennis Grundman/Daily

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The ground is broken for the new Smithsonian park expansion. Dennis Grundman/Daily

Director: Facility will be able to house 60 undergrads, 60 graduate, professional students

By Kaitlin Mayhew -- kmayhew@nvdaily.com

FRONT ROYAL -- The Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute broke ground Wednesday on a new facility at its Warren County location that will allow it to have six times the number of students on-site.

The current facility, located on 3,200 acres off of U.S. 522, has 16 dormitory rooms and can house up to 20 undergraduate and graduate students.

The expansion, slated to open in the fall of 2012, will feature 60 double-occupancy rooms, enabling SCBI to house 60 undergraduates and 60 graduate and professional students.

In addition to dormitories, the new buildings will include an academic center with three labs, an atrium, four classrooms, 18 offices, a dining patio, exercise facility and study space.

Steve Monfort, director of SCBI and co-founder of a Smithsonian-George Mason University program that began in 2008, said he is most proud of the ability to get more students in the area.

"There is no greater goal than to invest in educating and training the next generation of conservation professionals," he said.

All of the new buildings will be built to LEED Gold Standard and be outfitted with geothermal energy, green roofs, a rain garden, wildlife-friendly landscaping that will require no irrigation and low-flow fixtures to reduce water usage.

LEED is a rating system for structures aiming to be more environmentally friendly. It is points-based and measured on six categories: sustainable location, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, indoor environmental quality, and innovation and design. A gold designation is the second highest, and means that the building received a total of 39 to 51 credits.

The area will also become a "walking campus" with no vehicles within the parameters, and parking only available around outer edges.

The "Smithsonian-Mason Semester in Conservation Studies" program enabled students from GMU to earn 16 credits during a one-semester interdisciplinary program. With the expansion, students from any university can come to the facility to study biology, wildlife science and environmental ecology. Students from all backgrounds and majors are encouraged to apply.

Michelle Waterman, who spoke at the groundbreaking ceremony, was a Spanish major at GMU when she decided to apply for the first Smithsonian-Mason Semester in Conservation Studies. She said that although she did not have a science background, she was interested in conservation.

"I really liked the integrative approach," she said. "I was interested in merging science with the humanities."

Waterman went on to an internship with Oceana, a nonprofit in Washington that focuses on preserving the world's oceans. She pursued her Master of Science at University of York in England, and has now applied for a doctorate program at GMU focusing on conservation.

She calls her semester at SCBI her "turning point."

The facility also offers short, intensive courses for graduate students and professionals, as well as a certificate in applied conservation science.

"We are extremely excited to literally build upon this unique partnership between two highly regarded institutions," said Alonso Aguierre, executive director of the Smithsonian-Mason program. "These new facilities will allow our students to live and learn in a collaborative environment where conservation is happening every day."

SCBI and Mason are in the process of developing new programs as well.

"It's like a study abroad program," said Monfort. "It's not a simulated environment. It's in the living landscapes of the Shenandoah Valley."



It was easily the best decision I ever made in my undergraduate career to go to SCBI. I got a minor from the credits earned there, and like Waterman said, it was the turning point in my career choice path. I wish I could have been there for the groundbreaking ceremony, but the time I already spent there was incredible. The view from racetrack hill, the integrated internship, the dorm hall community; everything was close, the the students could bond together in a college atmosphere that was second to none.

Hope this means the site will be more open to the general public. What about a visitors center?

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