At 9 a.m. Monday, fifth-graders were buzzing with chatter in front of Bend Science Station’s brand-new building. Co-founder Lisa Bermudez asked the students to raise their hands if they remembered the group’s old location at Central Oregon Community College, and most did.

“Well, this is going to be fun for you,” she told the students.

These students from Sisters Middle School were the first to conduct experiments at the Bend Science Station’s new location on Oregon State University-Cascades’ campus. Since 2002, the nonprofit has provided hands-on, laboratory-based science education for Central Oregon students, particularly for elementary-age students, because many schools at that level don’t have designated science teachers or laboratories, according to Bermudez, the group’s development and marketing director. The group also provides after-school programs, summer camps and independent research programs for K-12 students, helps train science teachers and lends science equipment to schools.

Bend Science Station was based in COCC’s Chandler Lab for its first 16 years and had two labs to work with. Bermudez said the college told Bend Science Station officials six years ago it wanted to use that space for other purposes, so in 2014, the nonprofit signed a letter of intent with OSU-Cascades to relocate to the university’s Bend campus.

The building broke ground in October; construction was completed Thursday, and Bend Science Station’s team spent the weekend packing up equipment and moving it across town.

OSU-Cascades Vice President Becky Johnson said the college was “extremely excited” about Bend Science Station being next door because it should introduce young students to the college campus and give grad students an opportunity to witness STEM educators at work.

“It was just such an obvious connection to academic programs that we have that it was an easy decision to say that we really wanted them on our campus,” Johnson said of Bend Science Station.

OSU-Cascades will let the Science Station stay on the campus for free for 40 years. The nonprofit raised $2.5 million from community donations, grants and foundations to design and build the new center, according to executive director and co-founder David Bermudez.

“For a long time, we really flew under the radar,” Lisa Bermudez said. “This campaign was great for us, because it forced us to tell our story and ask for support from the community, and they did it. They stepped up.”

The new building has three state-of-the-art labs, one of which is slightly smaller and mainly intended as a space for teacher training. At COCC, Bend Science Station couldn’t have trainings and student labs at the same time due to a lack of space, but now, teachers (and OSU-Cascades grad students) can observe kids’ experiments thanks to cameras filming one of the bigger labs. The third lab also provides extra space in case a smaller, more rural school wishes to visit at the same time as one of the larger schools from Bend or Redmond.

“When (smaller schools) called and asked to do a field trip, we’d have to say, ‘Yeah, we’ve got June 14th available,’ and they call us at the beginning of the year,” Lisa Bermudez said. “Now, with the teacher training lab … we’re able to actually have that happen whenever they want it to happen.”

The new facility also includes a high-rise balcony that extends outside the building over an outdoor sand pit, where students can drop objects or hoist up Science Station instructors wearing climbing gear using pulleys and levers for physics experiments. The lab spaces also have tables that become trapezoid-shaped at the end, so students don’t have to awkwardly lean over the table to see the lesson.

The building is outfitted with 72 solar panels on the roof, making it the only commercial building in Central Oregon that creates as much energy as it uses, according to Bend Science Station staff. This eco-friendly achievement fits OSU-Cascades’ goal for the entire campus.

Even the shape of the roof has a purpose: According to David Bermudez, it was intentionally angled upward from Chandler Avenue toward an OSU-Cascades classroom building.

“In my opinion, that acts as a metaphorical ramp to the kindergartners who first come to us, to the seniors that leave us, pointing in the direction of higher education,” he said.

Although the new building has bells and whistles, Lisa Bermudez said, the Bend Science Station doesn’t plan on fixing what isn’t broken — it kept a majority of its equipment and will continue offering the same programs. For example, the Sisters fifth-graders Monday morning built motors using a battery, magnet and copper wire, an experiment Lisa Bermudez said the nonprofit has conducted for years.

“What we’ve been doing for the past 16 years has been awesome. … So the building itself is new, and the space is new, but that doesn’t necessarily change how we’re doing things,” she said.

Even after one day, Bend Science Station officials are ecstatic about their new location.

“I consider this our shrine to science,” David Bermudez said.

Sisters fifth-grade teacher Tiffany Tisdel was wowed with the building, calling it “fabulous” and “beautiful visually.”

“There’s just so much more room for students to explore and get their hands on these science materials,” she said. “Bend Science Station (has) always been a strong program no matter where they are, but I think this will really be able to help them take off and bring more to students in Central Oregon.”

— Reporter: 541-617-7854; jhogan@bendbulletin.com

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