MOORHEAD, Minn.  -- Concordia College is planning its largest capital project yet: a $45 million integrated science complex.

The extensive renovation of two conjoined science buildings begins next spring, but the buildings will be evacuated by the end of this fall and professors are already packing up boxes, said Ellen Aho, a biology professor and chairwoman of the project’s design committee. The complex will open for classes in fall 2017.

For the past five years, faculty and administrators have been planning this complex, which they hope will address the changes in science education since the two science structures were constructed in the 1960s and early 1980s.

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The buildings now feature “lots of big lecture halls with seats bolted to the floors,” Aho said. The new design will “capture the way we teach, which is very hands-on, very interactive.”

Rather than always lecturing, science professors today work side by side with students or ask students to work together, she said.

“It’s a change in a paradigm of education as information transfer, to more of a process of mentorship,” said Eric Eliason, dean of the college and vice president of academic affairs.

So in the new science complex, rooms will be more flexible. Labs will include side areas for students to work on write-ups. Offices will be larger, with space for several students and a professor. So-called t-search labs will function as teaching spaces during the day and research areas at night.

In the most visible change, the front brick wall of one of the buildingswill be replaced by glass, revealing an expansive commons for students to gather.

“The thing that was really not so much in the minds of the designers when our existing buildings were built were the informal learning spaces,” Aho said.

Despite the lack of proper study areas, the college has adapted. “You’ll find tables and couches set up in all of the strangest places,” Eliason said with a laugh.

But the renovation by Boston-based EYP Architecture and Fargo-based Foss Architecture will eliminate the need for such measures.

With the exception of the glass wall, the exterior of the science buildings will remain the same, matching the rest of campus, Aho said.

The new complex will also comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and have more environmentally friendly ventilation, Eliason said.

This project comes at a time when Concordia is attempting to plug a $3.8 million shortfall due to low enrollment and still cover $1.8 million in new programs, for a total of $5.6 million that needs to be made up in cuts or new revenue.