Northwest Campus Redevelopment Project Update

This is the second in a series of articles about specific aspects of TCC Northwest’s redevelopment project , part of the $825 million bond program approved by Tarrant County voters in 2019. Other articles will follow periodically as construction moves toward completion in late 2025. 


Janice Smith, dean of TCC Northwest’s Math and Science Division, and department chairs Greta Bowling (Life Sciences) and Juan Barbarin (Physical Sciences) know that even though the science labs in the eastern part of Building 1, now going up west of WHPE, will be a significant upgrade, they won’t be available until Spring 2023.

No problem, according to Barbarin. “Look, if someone tells me that, for sure, in two years I’m going to have a Lamborghini, I can wait,” he said. “I can use my Toyota Camry in the meantime.”

There’s a lot to like about the new labs. For Smith, the big payoff is not that they’re larger (they are, but not by much), follow a better design (they do) or that the equipment therein will be more up to date (it will). No, it’s that there will be 11 of them as opposed to the present nine.

“The problem we had was that not all biology labs have the same duration,” she said. “We have three-hour labs, two-hour labs and one that meets two hours every week. It’s very difficult to schedule a three-hour lab and a two-hour lab in the same room, but, by gosh, we were doing it.”

The difficulty wasn’t so much that the lab time frames were different, but that the time between them was so short, especially when they involved different courses. The lab for freshman biology would have a very different setup from, say, one for Anatomy and Physiology or Microbiology, and the preparation teams had 10 minutes to make the switch. It’s as if the Drama Department put on Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar and Romeo and Juliet on the same afternoon and the crew had 10 minutes to replace Rome with Verona.

“Right now, we’re working with four labs, so there’s lots of overlap going from one subject to another and it kind of makes for a jumbled mess,” Bowling said. “So, it was really important for us to make sure that we advocated for a fifth lab so that each of our courses has its own lab space. This will also allow us to increase the number of offerings.”

The five biology labs are on the second floor – two for Anatomy and Physiology, two for general biology and one for microbiology. Extending behind all five is a long corridor with rooms where the prep work is done.

The first level houses the physics lab and two geology labs. Barbarin is particularly excited about the additional geology lab that will allow students to do chemical experiments on rocks and minerals that yield observations regarding oceanography and environmental geology. And while physics still has only the single lab, he said, the new one is “much better than the one we’re using now in both design and capabilities.” Both he and Smith, however, are looking for a space where a second physics lab could be housed.

The chemistry labs will be on the top floor and, like those for biology, will be specialized. One will be for chemistry for non-science majors and oceanography, another will be for general chemistry and the third will house organic chemistry. “We’ve been adapting, adapting, adapting in the past,” Barbarin said, “but this lab is going to be very specialized, dealing with the chemicals and equipment very specific to organic chemistry.” There will be more space to house equipment, including a new spectrometric device to determine of the structure or quantity of substances by measuring their capacity to absorb light of various wavelengths.

Planning the new labs was a team effort – and not just the TCC Northwest team. “We had people from across the District come in,” Smith said. “I believe Thomas Sosa (South) was there and Tommy Awtry (Southeast) and Charlene Cole (Northeast). We worked with the architects. They showed us different designs and, of course, we wanted something else. We were able to take the designs they showed us and explained what we liked and why. Then they’d redo their drawings and bring them back to us.”

The process was longer than Smith had anticipated and had some push and pull along the way. When the TCC group requested more space in lab prep rooms, the architects explained the difference in cost. Some team members had, through their work on the ILLE (Integrated Instructional Learning Environments) Principle, had seen what the architects were proposing in other colleges and thought it would work. “So that’s what we did,” Smith said. “We compromised between dream and reality.”

Bowling said that there was some resistance to adding the fifth biology lab but that she and Smith, along with Northwest President Zarina Blankenbaker, were able to get it into the plan.

Such differences of opinion, however, were cordial and thoroughly professional. “I never felt the architects were saying ‘no’ to anything,” Bowling said. “I thought they were accepting our input and trying to understand the reasoning behind some of the suggestions we were making.”

“It’s like buying a house,” Smith said. “You know what you want. You know what’s absolutely critical, but you want that little tweak. Wouldn’t that make it better? Sometimes that happens, and I think we’ve got that in spades with the new building.”