Last updated: February 17. 2013 9:28AM - 123 Views

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WILKES-BARRE – Wilkes University's new science building has a name, and the largest individual donation in the university's history will help fund its construction, the college announced Wednesday.

The new facility under construction at the center of the Wilkes campus will be dubbed the Lawrence and Sally Cohen Science Center after Benco Dental chairman Lawrence Cohen and his wife.

The Cohen family donated $2.5 million toward construction of the new science building, a gift Wilkes President Patrick Leahy said was the largest individual cash donation in the university's 79-year history.

Lawrence Cohen is chairman of Benco Dental, a family-owned dental supply company based in the CenterPoint Commerce and Trade Park in Jenkins Township. He is also a 1957 Wilkes graduate, lifelong Wilkes-Barre resident and a former Wilkes trustee of 14 years.

His son Charles Cohen, managing director of Benco Dental, is a current Wilkes trustee.

"Few people have been more supportive of this institution than the Cohens," Leahy said. "… Culminating in this latest show of philanthropy, they have answered the call every time Wilkes has asked."

Lawrence Cohen said he considers the gift "a worthwhile investment in the region's future," and "the entire Cohen family is behind this gift."

While Cohen's business deals in the life sciences – supplying equipment and supplies to dental practices – Cohen said the benefit the science building will provide Wilkes and the region go beyond any advantage to his or other local businesses.

"I think it's a benefit to the country to get more scientists," Cohen asked. "I'm a bigger picture guy than my company."

The Cohen family previously donated $150,000 to fund upgrades to a dental clinic reopened this year at Luzerne County Community College in Nanticoke, which was rechristened the Benco Dental Clinic.

The latest gift brings the total donations for the science building to more than $13.5 million. Wilkes hopes to raise a total of $20 million in philanthropic donations to partially fund the building's total cost of $35 million, and is now embarking on an alumni giving campaign, trustee and capital campaign co-chair Michael Mahoney said.

Major addition to campus

The four-story, 72,500-square-foot building extends from South River Street into the Fenner Quadrangle at the center of campus, arcing around the Stark Learning Center in a J shape.

It will house the biology and health sciences, chemistry and biochemistry, and environmental engineering and earth sciences departments. The third floor will be occupied by interdisciplinary labs where students and faculty from different departments will perform research collaboratively.

The building is scheduled to open for the fall 2013 semester. Leahy said construction is progressing "on time and on budget."

Connor Zale, a sophomore biology major from Clarks Summit, said he is excited for the building to open.

"I believe it's going to be a great advantage for the university," Zale said. "It's going to be another resource for the students to use for independent and group research (and) it's an excellent improvement on current buildings we have, which are already ahead of the line in education."

Leahy said the science building will help Wilkes maintain a competitive edge in life sciences education, and will strengthen partnerships with the surrounding community.

"This building will help train nurses and pharmacists in the sciences, and of course we do placements in the local medical facilities," Leahy said. "We'll also do hard research in this building that will be of use to the Wilkes-Barre community as well as in all of Northeastern Pennsylvania."

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