Valders Hall of Science was dedicated on September 29, 1961, becoming the first million dollar building on the Luther College campus. Larsen Hall and Main had previously been used as the home of the biology, chemistry, physics, and mathematics departments. The new science building put all of these disciplines under one roof for the first time in college history. Situated just north of the Olin Building and south of Ylvisaker Hall, Valders Hall of Science faces the center of Campus across from Brandt Hall.
Since the building was going to be the most expensive ever undertaken by the college, a sizable amount of funding was needed. In 1954 A.O. Davidson (class of 1931) returned to Luther College to help with the recently reactivated Alumni Fund. By 1955 faculty, staff, and students of the college had pledged $84,000; the city of Decorah, $83,000; and not long after the total pledges reached more than $200,000. The success of the campaign inspired an enlargement becoming known as the Centennial Development Fund with a goal of $700,000 which was reached early in 1958 going over by $27,000. The Kresge Foundation gave $25,000 in 1957; the United States Public Health Service, granted $25,000 for construction of health research facilities; and the Woods Charitable Fund, Inc. of Chicago awarded $500. By 1957 Luther College had launched the Lutheran Alumni Mobilization Project (LAMP)to encourage alumni participation in all phases of college development. The principal private donors for the building, Louis and Moude Olson, donated $200,000 as well as other substantial gifts to the college. Fully furnished the final cost of the building was $1,367,067.
The two wing building, one of three stories, was connected with a large lobby and concourse that has been used for chapel and rehearsal purposes. For several years Valders Hall of Science, when it was first built, also needed to serve the speech and theatre departments for which a large lecture hall was built to house the dramatic productions. This lecture hall seats 300 and is located next to the Spitz Planetarium, completed in 1964. Also added later was a research-grade greenhouse.
Construction began in fall of 1959 with the cornerstone laid in May of 1960. The dedication in 1961 was led by H.W. Siefkes, bishop of the Iowa District, ALC. The guest lecturer was H. Bentley Glass, a biologist from Johns Hopkins University. The Olson family asked that the building be named for the Valdres area in Norway and Valders, Wisconsin, where Mr. Olson's ancestors lived.
Valders Hall of Science was the first million-dollar building on the Luther campus. However, because of insufficient funds, some features of the original plan had to be delayed. A Spitz Planetarium, including projector, dome instruments, and seating was added in 1964, completed in time for the spring meeting of the Iowa Academy of Science held at Luther. Emil Miller demonstrated it for the visiting scholars. At the time, it was the only planetarium in any educational institution in Iowa and one of only a few in the Midwest. The planetarium was a great tool for the teaching of astronomy, but not content with that, Miller was determined also to have an observatory in the country, away from the distracting lights of town. He toured rural Decorah looking for a proper site. The one selected was on a piece of farmland owned by Roy Carlson, who willingly donated the necessary property. The faculty family of Carl and Camilla Strom gave the college a telescope. Miller, with the aid of students and a stonemason, constructed a usable observatory at minimal cost. On a foundation of cement block, they mounted a fiberglass silo dome on wheels. The dome was made to revolve by an old washing-machine motor for Miller's basement.
To meet the needs of the changing environment for teaching and learning science, Luther broke ground May 11, 2007 on a 21st-century science facility connected to the east with the current Valders Hall of Science. Luther hired Opus Northwest Construction (Minnetonka, Minn.) as the architectural firm for the Sampson Hoffland Laboratories, a design-and-build project. Within the three-level facility, the biology department will be housed on the first and second levels, and the chemistry department will be housed primarily on the third level. This leaves a majority of the original building for the nursing and psychology departments. The Luther building planning team enlisted the help of energy-efficiency engineers to design the new center to U.S. Green Building Council's LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards--including lighting-control sophistication and other technologies developed to reduce energy consumption and heating and cooling costs. The funding project is Luther's $90-million Higher Calling campaign. The largest capital project in college history, the new science center is projected to cost $20 million.
Stability and Change: Luther College in Its Second Century by Leigh D. Jordahl and Harris E. Kaasa