A long-awaited building will be dedicated at 9 a.m. Thursday at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. But the $56 million Science and Engineering Building, equipped with every imaginable bell and whistle and then some, represents more than just extra space for the campus.

The 156,000-square-foot facility is another step toward elevating what once was a small hometown commuter school to research and development prominence. That, officials say, will bring more patentable innovations, funding and students to what is already one of the fastest-growing universities in the nation.

“We’ve never had, in the history of southern Colorado, the kind of research labs in a public institution that we now have, and the potential for technology transfer is tremendous,” Chancellor Pam Shockley-Zalabak said Tuesday.

“We desperately needed this — without it, we wouldn’t be able to grow.”

But the building, in the works for a decade, almost didn’t materialize. The Legislature appropriated funding in 2000, then de-appropriated it a year later because of state budget constraints. Shockley-Zalabak lobbied lawmakers and got back $20 million from the state. The remaining $36 million was paid for using bonds, grants and donations.

Groundbreaking took place in 2006, but the project almost stalled again last fall when Gov. Bill Ritter called for a freeze on state-funded construction projects because of severe budget shortfalls. The chancellor persuaded him to exempt the Science and Engineering Building, which was then 60 percent complete.

Karen Newell, a biology professor and scientific director of the CU system’s Institute for Bioenergetics, said the original science building, erected in 1981 for a campus of about 5,000 students, had cramped and outdated quarters.

UCCS now has about 8,000 students, including 900 living in dorms, and has since merged with Beth-El College of Nursing and Health Sciences, which means more students needing lab time.

When the fall semester starts Aug. 24, chemistry major Kirstin Knobbe will be one of the first students to use the building.

“I didn’t realize how bad the old facilities were until I saw the new building,” said Knobbe, a 20-year-old junior who wants to pursue medicine. “This shows the school values science and research. It makes me feel special as a science major.”

The building also will enable Newell and her colleagues to expand their research in areas such as cancer and auto-immune diseases.

“Research is important because it’s new knowledge that contributes to our understanding of diseases and generates intellectual property that can be patented — which provides a revenue stream back to the university,” said Newell, whose research has produced about $3 million in financial support from business sponsorship in her 10 years at UCCS.

A public dedication of the building will take place at 9 a.m. Thursday at the UCCS campus, 1420 Austin Bluffs Parkway. Building tours will be offered.

The building ... :

• Is the largest and most energy-efficient building on campus
• Has 11 classrooms, 32 instructional labs and 53 research labs in a four-story, 156,000-square-foot building
• Houses biology, physics, mechanical and aerospace engineering, the National Institute for Science, Space and Security Centers, the CU Institute for Bioenergetics and a K-12 Center. The latter has computer kiosks to encourage elementary, middle and high school students to participate in science-related activities and study.
• Has solar panels, a high-efficiency heating and cooling system and other energy conservation features.
• Features a three-story-tall front foyer that displays an interactive Foucault pendulum, which demonstrates the axial rotation of the earth through motion.