With groundbreakings today, UNO launches two highly anticipated construction projects: a $6 million Biomechanics Research Building and a $24 million Community Engagement Center.
Officials say both projects have the potential to transform the University of Nebraska at Omaha — the biomechanics laboratory because it may be the first facility of its kind, and the engagement center because it could expand UNO's growing metropolitan community service mission.
“Both of these new buildings, funded with private support, are truly cutting-edge,” UNO Chancellor John Christensen said. “Biomechanics research puts UNO on the map both nationally and internationally. The engagement center ... is already attracting attention from nationally renowned engagement scholars.”
The 23,000-square-foot Biomechanics Research Building, scheduled to be completed by August 2013, will house the Nebraska Biomechanics Core facility and related programs, said Nick Stergiou, an Isaacson professor of health, physical education and recreation and director of the core facility.
Stergiou described it as “the first stand-alone building on the planet dedicated solely to biomechanics research.” It also is UNO's first building wholly dedicated to research, he said.
Biomechanics uses mathematics and engineering to understand the mechanics of human motion. It can be used to improve athletic performance, but also is used to prevent and treat physical ailments. Biomechanics researchers also develop robotic prosthetics to aid disabled people and injured veterans.
“It's not just me, and it's not just UNO that will benefit,” Stergiou said. “It's Nebraska and it's Omaha.”
The 60,000-square-foot Community Engagement Center, to be completed in 2014, will serve as UNO's front door, officials said. It will be located near the bell tower, to make it easy to find for visitors from off-campus.
Both ceremonies will be held at a parking lot near the Health, Physical Education and Recreation Building, with the Biomechanics Building ground-breaking set for 3 p.m. and the Community Engagement Center's two hours later.
The Ruth and Bill Scott family were the lead donors for the biomechanics laboratory. The Barbara and Wally Weitz Family Foundation, Union Pacific and the Scott family were lead donors for the engagement facility.
Ruth Scott said she is inspired by Stergiou's research.
“I'll never forget the first time I met Dr. Stergiou and heard about his amazing research,” she said. “He and his staff are improving the lives of people of all ages throughout the world.”
Barbara Weitz said she anticipates that the Community Engagement Center will unleash energy and excitement over UNO's collaborations with nonprofit agencies, government subdivisions and citizens.
For example, three UNO staff members collaborate with Building Bright Futures on a grant-funded initiative to improve K-12 school attendance. Student volunteers with Maverick Solutions, a student advertising agency, developed public relations materials for the collaborative.
In addition, more than 100 UNO courses now require student volunteer work.
“It (community engagement) is deeply entwined in our mission; it's really where we've been going in the past several years,” said Sara Woods, associate dean in the College of Public Affairs and Community Service. “The center is really going to put us on the map.”
UNO officials expect both buildings to be completed in time for national conferences in Omaha over the next two years — the American Society of Biomechanics in September 2014 and the Coalition of Urban and Metropolitan Universities in 2015.
Contact the writer: