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A Grand Opening for Geology

Dozens of fossilized fish from the Green River Formation seem to swim in the "fish wall" in the lobby of the University of Utah's new $25 million geology building, the Frederick Albert Sutton Building.

April 13, 2009 – After two years of construction, the University of Utah will hold a dedication celebration on Friday, April 17 for its new, environmentally friendly geology facility, the $25 million Frederick Albert Sutton Building.

“The building is a wonderful gift to help us learn more about the Earth – a planet in a delicate balance,” says Marjorie Chan, professor and chair of the Department of Geology and Geophysics. “Students who come into the building will feel a sense of excitement about the natural world around them. The new building is ideal setting for teaching and research.”

The four-level, 91,000-square-foot building is the first certified “green” building on the University of Utah’s main campus, incorporating a number of environmental features and geological displays, including a pebble “riverbed” flowing through the building and walls displaying rocks and fossils of fish and leaves.

It also includes classrooms, labs, offices, conference rooms, informal gathering areas and the dean’s office for the College of Mines and Earth Sciences. That office and the Department of Geology and Geophysics moved from the adjacent eight-level William Browning Building, which is connected to the new Sutton Building on three levels.

News media are invited to cover Friday’s invitation-only dedication, which features speakers from 11 a.m. until a noon ribbon-cutting ceremony, followed by a private luncheon. Tours lasting 20 minutes will be held every half hour from 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. Two or three different tours will be offered during each period.

Media vehicles may park either at the loading dock near the southwest corner of the new building, or at the north end of the parking lot on the north side of the Merrill Engineering Building.

A Large Donation from an Old Friend

The building is named for geologist Frederick Albert Sutton (1894-1950). Sutton was born in Salt Lake City and graduated from the University of Utah in 1917 with a degree in mining engineering. After fighting in World War I, Sutton pursued a career in oil exploration in South America – especially Venezuela’s Maracaibo Basin – China and Tibet.

More than $12 million of the building’s cost was donated by Sutton’s daughter, Rev. Marta Sutton Weeks, a longtime friend of the college. No state money was used to construct the building.

The Sutton Building cost about $25 million. Another $2 million was spent on related projects, including a new Ivor Thomas Laboratory for metallurgical engineering. The Sutton Building was erected on the site of the old lab, which was donated to the university by Weeks’ brother-in-law, Ivor Thomas.

The Sutton building sits on a reinforced concrete foundation, and is constructed of reinforced concrete, allowing researchers to make vibration-free analytical measurements. Exposed interior concrete walls provide structural support against earthquakes.

“Never have I seen faculty so pleased with the stability and quality of data coming out of their instruments,” says Frank Brown, dean of the College of Mines and Earth Sciences and a distinguished professor of geology and geophysics. “Not only is the temperature control wonderful, but the building’s rigidity makes it almost vibration free.”

Highlights of the Sutton Building:

  • The University of Utah Seismograph Stations moved from the seventh floor of the Browning Building to the ground floor of the Sutton Building, which is more stable in the event of a large earthquake. Offices of the Seismograph Stations are located next to the new Rio Tinto Earthquake Information Center, named for the international mining group and parent of Kennecott Utah Copper, which pledged $600,000 for the facility. The center will include a number of quake-related displays, including a large video wall upon which quake recordings will be displayed for the public.

  • The building is the first on the University of Utah’s main campus with LEED certification (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), Chan says. The building also incorporates some student-designed environmental features, including a roof garden, on-site storm water capture, xeriscaping, top-floor tubular skylights and a system to display energy and water use.

  • The Sutton Building’s east entrance, located on the second floor, is part of a rotunda-like lobby linking it with the Browning Building. One of Sutton’s most stunning features is the “fish wall” in the lobby: a display of 103 Eocene-age fish fossils – some of them 50 million years old – from the Green River Formation’s Fossil Lake near Kemmerer, Wyo. The fossils are arranged so they look like a school of swimming fish.

  • A nearby wall displays rare fossil leaves, also from the Green River Formation. Other displays in the building include minerals; a steel cast of a fossil of the dinosaur Allosaurus, Utah’s state fossil; and an exhibit on human ancestors known as hominids.

  • The building has many natural stone elements, including rock slabs donated by local companies and a “riverbed” that flows through the building. A dry river of cobblestones outside the east entrance extends into the second-floor rotunda as a curving “stream” of pebbles encased in clear epoxy. The “stream” flows toward and down the stairway to the first floor, and then out the west entrance, where there is another dry riverbed of cobblestones.