The Science & Agriculture Teaching and Research Complex is currently slated to be built between the Baker Center for Science and Mathematics (Building 180) and the English Building (Building 22). | Courtesy illustration

Cal Poly has taken a leap closer to starting construction on a new research center after receiving a $20 million donation.

Biochemistry alumnus from 1972 William Frost and his wife, Linda, have promised $20 million toward construction of the Science & Agriculture Teaching and Research Complex — a 64,000 square foot research lab and technology space designated for three Cal Poly colleges, according to a press release from university spokesman Matt Lazier.

Philip Bailey, dean of the College of Science and Mathematics, met Frost during his second year teaching at Cal Poly in 1970, and the two have stayed friends since.

The space would be intended to help undergraduate research by allowing students to work on long-term projects with faculty mentors year round, according to Bailey.

“What he’s trying to do — and it’s a vision he and I, and President (Jeffrey) Armstrong, and many faculty and students share … is to make Cal Poly science and math the best in the country in undergraduate research,” Bailey said.

About 40 percent of the space is planned for the College of Science and Math, complete with computational labs, wet chemistry, dry chemistry and biological sciences equipment. The main chunk of the space, 50 percent, will be devoted to the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences, while the remaining 10 percent will be used by the College of Liberal Arts.  

The $20 million pledge adds to previous donations set for the research complex, making a total of about $35 million, all toward construction and architectural needs. The building is estimated to cost about $57 million — Cal Poly intends to continue fundraising toward the goal, and is tentatively planning to begin construction by 2018, according to Lazier.

Armstrong was quoted in the press release praising the Frosts’ generosity toward the construction: “This center will bring Learn by Doing alive for thousands of Cal Poly students across many disciplines. We are grateful to Bill and Linda for their generosity, vision and leadership on this project and their ardent support for undergraduate research.”

This isn’t the first time Frost has made donations to Cal Poly. In fact, Bailey said that for Frost it’s a step along a road to improve Cal Poly’s academic standing.

“He’s trying to entice students to come to Cal Poly who are very competitive and have offers at other universities,” Bailey said.

Frost has sent out about $1.2 million yearly in scholarships, which are granted to about 70 potential students after they’ve applied to persuade them to commit to Cal Poly.

And he has provided $200,000 for the past two years — which is matched by other sources — so about 150 College of Science and Math students can be given a $2,500 stipend to work on research full time over the summer.

And his latest step, the $20 million donation, will give a new generation of students coming to Cal Poly extra room to work. Which, Bailey said, is sorely needed.

“In the summer, we don’t have any problem,” Bailey said. “We don’t have a big summer quarter, so (students working on research) can use some of the teaching labs. But once the academic year starts, the amount of space is drastically reduced.”

The Science & Agriculture Teaching and Research Complex is currently slated to be built between the Warren J. Baker Center for Science and Mathematics (building 180) and English (building 22) buildings. Bailey said he’s hopeful that it will be ready to be used as early as the 2020-21 school year.

Note: Corrections have been made to this article for clarity.

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