Cawthron upgrade long time coming

'Our region's leading technical think tank'

SARAH DUNN
Last updated 13:00 21/02/2014
Cawthron Institute
ALDEN WILLIAMS/Fairfax NZ

MAYORS GATHER: Tasman mayor Richard Kempthorne, left, Joel Bowater, of the Cawthron Institute, Nelson mayor Rachel Reese and Marlborough mayor Alistair Sowman during the opening of the new $5 million Cawthron Institute building yesterday.

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The Cawthron Institute has celebrated the opening of its most significant upgrade for 40 years.

Nelson MP and institute board member Nick Smith was one of about 200 people who attended the event yesterday afternoon, saying Nelson's future depended on the use of science and technology to make its industries more competitive.

"The Cawthron Institute is so important to Nelson because we don't have a university or Crown Research Institute. It is our region's leading technical think tank."

He said Cawthron's greatest strength lay in the talent of its employees.

"You can have the flashest offices and the best labs you like, but scientific institutions are only as good as their scientists."

Cawthron is New Zealand's largest independent research institution. The EnviroTech wing was built by Stoke firm Scott Construction, which began work in January last year.

Split into two floors, it includes an open-plan cafeteria space, a laboratory, offices and a meeting suite.

The building is also the new home of Cawthron's internationally significant living collection of microalgae cultures.

The main space was completed in October, while the laboratory was finished in November. The development cost more than $5.5 million and was completed without government funding.

Board chairman Ian Kearney said he hoped that the Government would contribute to the second stage of the new development. Ideally, he would welcome the Prime Minister onto the yet-to-be-built premises in two to three years.

John Key was to attend the ceremony but was unable to because of fog-cancelled flights.

Finance and administration manager Juliette Plank said Cawthron's laboratory was built 40 years ago, and was never designed to hold as many people as it had been expected to.

Cawthron's workforce has grown by about 25 per cent over the past seven years, and the organisation now employs nearly 200 scientists, researchers and specialist staff. "Obviously the old laboratory building has been with us for quite some time, so we were able to get some state of the art facilities in there."

She said the open plan space had been designed with collaborative discussions in mind, saying different groups could come together and talk about their projects.

Lab manager Veronica Beuzenberg acted as a staff representative during consultation on the new laboratory's design. She said the top concerns of lab staff were sample integrity and cleanliness, saying the new space supported an efficient workflow and allowed for more interaction between groups of scientists as they worked.

"We used to be more siloed, but this has a better atmosphere with a lot of inter-group chatter . . . it's actually been a wonderful group-building exercise."

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- The Nelson Mail

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