Rivier groundbreaking Sister Paula Marie Buley

Sister Paula Marie Buley, president of Rivier University, speaks during Friday’s groundbreaking ceremony for the school’s new Science and Innovation Center.

NASHUA — Embarking on the next phase of its Vision 2020 improvement plan, Rivier University on Friday broke ground on a new state-of-the-art science facility.

The Science and Innovation Center is a two-story, 35,000-square-foot building that will integrate biology, biotechnology, chemistry and physics with collaboration space and a visible-learning environment, according to university leaders.

“This is a major moment in our history,” Karen Cooper, vice president for university advancement, said during Friday’s groundbreaking ceremony, adding the new facility will serve as a beacon of innovation for the city.

The new science center, which is replacing Mendel Hall, is the second phase of Rivier University’s Vision 2020 improvement project for the eastern part of the campus.

The 60-year-old Mendel Hall has already been demolished in preparation for the construction of the new building at 436 South Main St.; the old St. Joseph’s Hall has also been razed.

The nation is facing an increasing number of environmental and health challenges, according to Dr. Susan Barbaro, associate professor and coordinator of biology for the school. Science will play a major role in offering solutions to these challenges, she said.

“This will require big thinking and big imagination from all of us,” said Barbaro, explaining that the new Science and Innovation Center will provide opportunities for students from all disciplines to help solve the problems of today and in the future.

“I cannot wait to see what is in store for students who have the opportunity to reap the rewards of the new science center,” said Megan Munroe, a biology major with the upcoming graduating class.

Over the past several years, Rivier has raised its profile in the Nashua community and beyond, according to Mayor Jim Donchess, who said the city is proud to be home to a university that is focusing on innovation and the sciences.

“Rivier is responding to the needs of our business community,” Donchess said.

Sister Paula Marie Buley, president of the university, said Friday’s groundbreaking ceremony was a moment binding the school’s mission of rising higher and better with the power of science and technology.

The first phase of campus improvements, which broke ground previously, includes a new athletic pavilion with lockers, restrooms, storage, and training areas, as well as improvements to Raider Diamond, such as bleachers, dugouts, bullpens, a press box and netting.

The third phase of Vision 2020, which has not yet begun, includes a proposed gymnasium addition to the Muldoon Fitness Center.