SUU’s old business building transformed into new home for geosciences

CEDAR CITY — Southern Utah University’s newest campus building, the Mark and Julie Svoboda Geosciences Building, held its ribbon-cutting ceremony Thursday morning.

The renovation of the former business building, a three-floor structure located just east of the student center, will bring 26,000 square feet of space for SUU Geosciences.

SUU President Scott Wyatt noted the fully remodeled building was part of a $21 million project that included the construction of the new Dixie L. Leavitt Business Building a short distance from the former one. That new business building was dedicated last fall, at the beginning of the school year.

Read more: New business building dedicated at Southern Utah University

Since then, work has proceeded on the old business building to turn it into an inviting and functional home for the geosciences.

Mark Svoboda speaks during the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new Mark and Julie Svoboda Geosciences Building at Southern Utah University, Cedar City, Utah, May 2, 2019 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

It’s a far cry from the early 1980s, when geology students had to work in the basement of the general classroom building, said Robert Eves, dean of SUU’s Walter Maxwell Gibson College of Science.

Eves, who was one of the first students at then-Southern Utah State College to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in geology, paid tribute during his remarks to the tutelage efforts of early department professors Blair Maxfield, Richard Kennedy and Fred Lohrengel.

Not long after graduating, Eves himself began teaching both geology and chemistry at SUSC, later SUU. He has now been with the institution for 31 years.

Eves said he recalled getting a phone call a few years ago from fellow SUSC alumnus Mark Svoboda, whom he’d never met. Svoboda had been a business student while at Cedar, but had gotten hooked on geology during a club field trip to the Grand Canyon.

After graduating from SUSC in 1980, Mark Svoboda had gone on to obtain a bachelor’s in geology from Weber State and a master’s degree from the Mackay School of Mines at University of Nevada, Reno.

Mark’s wife Julie Gillies Svoboda, a fellow business student whom he’d met while they were attending SUSC, were married in 1981. The couple have reportedly shared a lifelong love for geology, as well as lengthy career in oil, gas and mineral exploration.

Southern Utah University President Scott Wyatt and his wife Kathy pose with a Utahraptor in front of the newly opened Mark and Julie Svoboda Geosciences Building, Cedar City, Utah, May 2, 2019 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

“The most probing questions he asked me related to whether our program was still hands-on and field based as a priority,” Eves told the audience. “After a couple of conversations, Mark offered to help move SUU Geosciences out of the basement and into a location that could give it greater visibility and perhaps increased graduates in the program.”

A financial donation by the Svobodas was instrumental in making the project happen, Eves said.

“We stand here today cutting the ribbon on a new era in geoscience education,” Eves said.

At that point, Mark and Julie Svoboda’s names were unveiled on the front of the building with assistance from a helpful dinosaur, a Utahraptor that stuck around for photo opportunities during the public building tour and open house that followed the ceremony.

In his brief remarks that followed Eves’, Mark Svoboda noted that the south entrance to the building features two full-size replica fossil skeletons on display.

“Those are Utahraptors from Grand County and they’re the oldest raptors in the world,” Svoboda told the audience, adding, “Utah has a really unique dinosaur history.”

“We have such unique geology here,” Svoboda added. “We have the Colorado plateau, sedimentary rocks to the east. We have the Marysville volcanic complex to the north. We have metamorphic rocks to the to the west and the Great Basin structural geology, et cetera.”

Members of the public tour the renovated interior of the Mark and Julie Svoboda Geosciences Building at Southern Utah University, Cedar City, Utah, May 2, 2019 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

“That’s what Blair Maxfield and Richard Kennedy instilled in me, that this was really a unique part of the world for geology, just not Utah or Southern Utah, but for the world. And that’s really what drove me to want to help create this,” Svoboda said.

In his closing remarks, Wyatt noted that of the project’s $21 million price tag for both buildings, only $8 million came from taxpayer funds appropriated by the state Legislature. The remainder came from private donations, he said, once again thanking the Svobodas along with Dixie Leavitt, who was in attendance in the audience.

Wyatt went on to call SUU the “university of the parks,” noting that there are six major national parks within a four-hours’ drive of Cedar City.

“This investment and what we’re doing today is further identifying, further defining Southern Utah University as the university of the parks, the university that is the center of public lands and the center of geology and the most beautiful landscapes in the world,” he said.

For more information about the geosciences study programs available at SUU, click here. For a fact sheet with details and information about the new Geosciences Building and its renovation, click here.

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Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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