Fordham University’s Louis Calder Center Biological Field Station is getting a new log cabin.
University officials broke ground on July 14 on a new 3,800-square-foot facility that will house 12 graduate research students when completed next year. The two-story cabin will be constructed of solid Pennsylvania pine logs and feature a rustic Adirondack style designed to blend with the surrounding wooded area and the historic turn-of-the-century cabin already on site. The new cabin will occupy two of the 113 forested acres used for ecological research and environmental education.
The new housing will play a critical role in helping increase the quality and quantity of research that can be conducted at the Center, according to Calder Director John Wehr, Ph.D.
“One of the most important things about a biological field station is the ability to do research right on the spot,” said Wehr, a professor of biology. “If your research project, your laboratories and your living space are localized, you can do more frequent sampling and immediate research, and so the quality of your science goes up.”
An on-site residence will also help grow Fordham’s graduate program in biology, which has been gaining in popularity over the last decade. Between 2004 and 2009, the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS) saw a nearly 100 percent increase in applications to its Ph.D. program in biology at the same time that admissions selectivity dropped from more than 50 percent to 10 percent.
“We are standing on a resource that Fordham has, that no one else can duplicate in the country,” said Nancy Busch, Ph.D., dean of GSAS. “As far as I know there is no full-time biological field station within a major metropolitan area. In choosing to make this commitment to Calder, the University is making a commitment not just to Westchester and New York City, but to a number of our international initiatives. A lot of the world’s (environmental) problems are associated with urbanization.
“This is going to put Fordham on the map in terms of the quality of students we attract and the work they are able to do,” said Busch.
The initial funding for the cabin came from a $202,697 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) in 2005, which planned for the construction of three log cabins housing four students each.
Because a portion of the Calder Center’s land lies within the New York City watershed, a series of plan revisions and new cost estimates were undertaken to make sure that stormwater basins and in-ground septic system met regulatory requirements from both the New York City Department of Environmental Protection and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.
Eventually, plans were redrawn to incorporate the three small structures into one, thus significantly reducing the overall ecological footprint as well as the acreage needed to clear for building.
To maintain better groundwater seepage, the cabin’s parking lot will be made with a semi-impervious granular pavement, rather than asphalt. The sole asphalt area will consist of a wheelchair ramp into the structure. The new facility will also capture and reuse rainwater in the research greenhouses.
The project also includes construction of a second greenhouse adjacent to the cabin, which should help alleviate the current overcrowding in the present greenhouse created by the increase in research activity. Wehr said that new greenhouse will support the center’s ongoing research on pollination, plant competition, invasive species and plant genetics.
Housing at Calder has been a longstanding issue facing faculty and students doing biological research. Of the center’s 16 graduate students, only two are currently able to live at Calder.
Furthermore, the high cost of real estate in the Westchester and surrounding region means that most students, and even some faculty, must commute up to two hours each way.
Wehr said one such student was Kyle Wright, who had to be at Calder by 5 a.m. in order to conduct research on songbirds and tick-borne diseases with Alan Clark, Ph.D., assistant professor of biology.
“We have fabulous students here at Fordham,” said Wehr. “When I look back at all the great science that has been done by our graduate students, it is even more impressive when I remember that some of them commuted two hours each way to come and work here. Now we will have an exciting and engaged community right on site.”