Science - May 10, 2007

Teething troubles and cake

The official opening ceremony for the Forum building is not until September, but on Tuesday 1 May – Labour Day – the first students poured in. It was a fitting day to start, as builders and repairmen were still busy in the new Wageningen UR education building.

A student takes a photo of the Forum cake with her mobile.
8.00 After over two years of building work, Forum is finally open. One of the two automatic revolving doors is so happy that it keeps on turning even without people. At the information desk people are handing out leaflets with a map and the regulations for the new building. Members of Argo are on hand to help students find their way.

8.30 It’s bit like being in a big department store – a friendly female voice announces over the intercom that after each lecture there is free coffee and cake in the Grand Café on the ground floor.

8.45 ‘Can you check whether there are still people in the other lecture hall?’ asks lecturer Adri Jacobs of a Forum helper. ‘I’m still missing a few.’ A few moments later everyone has arrived and the Meteorology & Air Quality practical can start. Through the internal windows other groups of students can still be seen wandering over the high footbridge, looking for a lecture that has also probably already started.

9.15 Deny Iyai from Indonesia takes a coffee break on the bridge leading to the library, which is still closed to the public. He’ll be in the Forum a lot in the coming weeks for his ecology course. He likes the space in the building. It’s a shame though that there are no leaflets in English. Still, someone has helped him find the room he needs.

10.28 The sun shines mercilessly on the white walls of a triangular room where Jan Willem Hofstee has started a lecture on Field Crop Technology for an all-male audience. The pictures from the projector are just visible. After a while a man from Facility Management comes to say that the sunshades will not be working today. ‘That’s a shame. It’s a real nuisance,’ answers Hofstee, and continues his lecture.

11.03 There’s a mass of bikes in front of the main entrance. A woman from the reception desk posts extra A4s with arrows to show the way to the cycle cellar, which is obviously difficult to find.

12.10 The escalator from the second to the first floor grinds to a halt just before lunch. Students walk downstairs, where it’s time for lunch.

13.05 ‘Not a rubbish bin in sight,’ sighs soil expert Toine Jongmans, who’s preparing to start a lecture in ten minutes. According to the Forum rules, eating and drinking is only allowed in the designated areas. ‘They are assuming that students will meekly obey the rule. I’ve been a lecturer long enough to know better,’ says Jongmans.

14.20 The up-escalators have stopped working as well. A repairman in blue overalls is standing with a case full of electronics next to the motor at the top of the stairs. He opens a hatch in the floor and disappears. ‘Thermal motor safety’ is on the display. ‘Call service department’. ‘That’s me, so we should be alright,’ says the repairman out of his hole. ‘The engine keeps cutting out because the safety mechanism says it’s overheating, but it isn’t. Let’s see what’s wrong.’

14.45 Seventy biology students are examining starfish and worms in a practical room on the eighth floor. The view from the window stretches out beyond the Rhine. On the window sill is the traditional star attraction of the practical, the marine aquarium with indigenous fauna, caught last week in the Oosterschelde River. ‘Unfortunately half have died,’ says animal expert Van den Boogaart. ‘There was probably still stuff in the water pipes. Copper and tin and so on; most animals can’t survive that.’ The sea cucumber and sea slug have not survived. The students have to make do with oysters and mussels.

16.00 The repairman in blue overalls has finished his work – the escalator is working again.

17.15 The building empties. Inside the workers clear up the Grand Café. A group of builders relaxes with a glass of coke. There are four Forum cakes left in the box.

19.00 The security team has swept the ground floor and the revolving door is still. The night guard remains behind alone. Minor problems with lifts, escalators, computers and busy builders will undoubtedly continue until the official opening in September. But the first day of teaching in the Forum has passed without big problems.