When completed in 2012, the K. Leroy Irvis Science Center will provide modernized labs and facilities to science and healthcare departments on CCAC’s Allegheny Campus. (Photo courtesy of CCAC)

After spending 15 years in the planning stages, the Community College of Allegheny County hopes to break ground on the new K. Leroy Irvis Science Center on its Allegheny Campus by September.

The Pittsburgh Planning Commission unanimously approved the Allegheny Campus’s 10-year master plan recently, of which the proposed science building is a part, and now city council is expected to give the final approval in a matter of weeks.

The five-storey, 65,000 square foot building was designed by Hayes Large Architects and is slated to cost $21 million.

“The length of the process has been due to getting funding, and over the course of that time there have been a few presidential changes, [and each president] had changes in vision,” said spokesman David Hoovler.

The Science Center will be located behind the Physical Education Building on Ridge Avenue along a campus alley called English Way.

Hoovler said the new space will be instrumental in consolidating the campus’s different science and healthcare departments in one building.

“It is significantly modernizing the science facilities on campus, which are now housed in a historical building on campus … West Hall,” Hoovler said.

The new building couldn’t arrive sooner, since the Allegheny Campus is beginning to be stretched to capacity. For the spring term that just ended, enrollment was up 12 percent over Spring 2009, which was 3 percent itself.

Hoovler said that, traditionally, most campuses expect enrollment growth closer to 2 percent. He added that most schools experience a drop in student enrollment during recessions, whereas CCAC has only grown during the present economic downturn.

The building’s design also aims to give the campus a dose of energy efficiency. Some of the energy saving components, Hoovler explained, are rooftop solar panels, modern ventilation equipment, making use of natural light to lessen the need for artificial light and the possibility of collecting and recycling rainwater to be used for the campus pool next door.

CCAC believes the designs will earn the building a Silver LEED certification, which is the second of four levels in this nationwide grading system for energy efficiency. For new construction, a building must achieve a score of 50 to 59 points out of 100 on the LEED certification program, developed by the U.S. Green Building Council.

If construction begins as expected in September, CCAC expects the building to be finished by January 2012. But before the community college can request bids, it needs final approval of the 10-year plan, which features other changes beside the K. Leroy Irvis Science Center.

“One thing that is in there is looking at a new parking garage on the site of existing student lots,” Hoovler said. “We hope it is not necessary over the next 10 years, but we hope that if it becomes necessary, we can move forward on it.