After 10 years of turning the idea over in its mind, the Psychology Dept. will hold the groundbreaking ceremony for the renovation and expansion of its building March 1.

As part of the expansion, a new, three-story wing will be added to the Psychology Dept. building and current offices will be renovated with new equipment. The entire project is estimated to cost $10.2 million, and the funding comes from the California Kindergarten-University Public Education Facilities Bond Act of 2002. The ceremony will take place between the Psychology and Biology buildings at 4 p.m. on the 17,000 square foot site of the future addition and will include a speaker.

“[The new addition] is designed so it takes advantage of the ocean views and contrasts to the existing building which is square and blocky,” Psychology Dept. Business Officer Lynne Pritchard said.

While the groundbreaking is in March, construction will not start until late spring or early summer, Pritchard said. The bidding process for prospective construction companies will begin next week, and the company will need to commit to 18 months of work, with completion expected during the summer of 2006.

Pritchard said the new wing would connect to the existing Psychology Building through pathways on the second and third floors and will consist of administration and meeting space. A life sciences computer lab will also be located on the first floor of the new wing. The existing Psychology Building will also be renovated as part of the project, and the current administration offices will be converted into labs.

A basement in the new wing will house the new Brain Imaging Center and a new space for the already established Research Center for Virtual Environments and Behavior (ReCVEB), Pritchard said. A $2 million magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine is planned for the lab, which would be used by researchers working with brain imaging, she said. While the department currently does not have the money to pay for the machine, future director of the Brain Imaging Lab Greg Ashby said he has submitted a research grant proposal to the National Science Foundation in hopes that they will fund it. The university is also seeking private donations for the machine.

“[The MRI machine] will be used to better understand basic cognitive and perceptual processes mediated in the brain,” he said. “Thirty faculty members have expressed interest in doing research with the machine. Although it will be housed in the Psychology Dept., the machine will potentially be used in the research of other departments such as Geography, Education and Linguistics.”

Ashby said undergraduate and graduate students will also have access to the lab for their own research and for classes the university plans to offer to give students hands-on experience. He said the UCLA Medical School currently has the closest MRI machine available to UCSB, but it is used primarily for “structural” MRIs, which detect tumors or other abnormalities in the brain. Researchers from UCSB who wish to conduct functional MRI research now use the machine at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H.

Pritchard said the department is very excited to get the project underway.

“After so many years of hard work, we have finally managed to get this far,” she said. “It’s not only beneficial to the department but to the campus as a whole. It meets our needs as well as the needs of students, faculty and research.”