Stony Brook University will break ground Friday on a marine sciences center on its Southampton campus, a boost to an acclaimed coastal research program that officials hope will draw more students to the East End.

Scientists there will be able to continue their study of algal blooms, shellfish, eelgrass and fisheries, which has been published in peer-reviewed journals. More undergraduate courses would be offered at the site, and a new Semester-At-Sea program would enroll students from other colleges who would live and study in Southampton.

"This will be a game-changer for research out there," Stony Brook president Dr. Samuel L. Stanley said Thursday.

The new center, to be built by Plainview construction firm E.W. Howell, will replace three smaller buildings that house the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, or SoMAS.

In addition to laboratories, a classroom and conference room, the 15,000-square-foot building will feature a tank that covers the ground floor, pumping in water from Shinnecock Bay. The water is to be used to grow saltwater organisms and to help heat and cool the building, officials said. The total cost is expected to be $8.3 million, about $6.9 million of which is coming from the state. The goal is to open in fall 2013, Stanley said.

The move comes two years after Stony Brook officials, citing budget constraints, closed much of the Southampton campus. Six undergraduate students in an environmental sustainability program sued the school. The two sides settled last August.

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The marine science station was on the Southampton campus when Stony Brook purchased the site in 2006 from Long Island University. More than 500 students on the main campus and Southampton campus are enrolled in SoMAS.

"It was a jewel and we want to make sure it can continue," said Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), who university officials said helped secure state money for the project. "It is critically important to growing the Southampton campus."

In April, lawmakers created a special land designation to keep the Southampton site zoned exclusively for educational use.

Christopher Gobler, director of academic programs for SoMAS' Southampton campus, said the new center will complement the experience that occurs on boats on local waterways -- hands-on learning that students have come to appreciate. "We will easily be able to attract more students out here," he said.