Construction is hard to deal with, but sweeping changes underway are moving the University of Tennessee campus into the nation’s top 25 public universities.
That was the message Dave Irvin, associate vice chancellor for facilities services, delivered to a lunch meeting of the Knoxville Alumni Chapter Oct. 10. And Irvin pointed to a host of projects finished this year in the ambitious, campus-wide master plan that will cost up to $1.5 billion.
“Smart” buildings, a more sustainable campus that uses green energy, and a campus-wide re-envisioning of spaces mark the changes. The campus is also growing via taller buildings, as planners cope with cramped spaces.
The biggest change this year was completion of Strong Hall, the iconic former women’s residence hall that combines a “Tennessee Gothic” exterior with high-tech, interactive classrooms. Those classrooms, built for intensive collaboration and team learning, prepare students for the future and set the tone for all other buildings across the campus. Other milestones were completion of the Stokely Residence Hall, Volunteer Parking Garage, the Hitachi Research Center in Cherokee Farms, and the first phase of residence hall construction in the West Campus.
“In the last year we added over one million square feet. We will add another one and a half million square feet,” said Irvin. Over the summer, 230 classrooms received renovation. Every building on campus has been touched somehow, he said.
Next in line is the second phase of the Student Union, which is to open in January 2019, more than four times the size of the old Student Center and costing $185 million. Gracious open spaces, a huge lecture hall and a spectacular glass sculpture will offer a welcoming space the campus has lacked.
A planned new nuclear engineering services building, to be located on the south side of the Hill off Estabrook Drive, is expected to vault the nuclear engineering program’s standing.
“Our nuclear engineering program is second best in the country. We are held back by the age of our facilities. This will allow us to leapfrog into first place.”
Another UT bragging point: “We are the No. 1 university in the country in the percentage of our power that comes from green energy,” Irvin said.
And a revamped Presidential Court, which at $270 million is the largest project in state history, will replace concrete, high-rise residence halls with contemporary ones that are full of features that appeal to students. Irvin said a decision was made to build the residence halls with stick framing and a projected lifespan of 25 years to reduce cost and confront the reality of changing student tastes.
“We came to understand student needs and wants have changed. The thought was, maybe doing a 25-year building makes more sense. At the end of 25 years, they may want to tear it down and do something else.”
A future priority is to request state funds for a new nursing school building to replace one that is “way too small,” Irvin said.
“We are turning down nursing applicants with GPAs of over 4.0. Students have job offers by the time they finish sophomore year. We could be graduating more nursing students.”
In athletics, Thompson Boling Arena will see renovations including a roof, air conditioning, restrooms and locker rooms. Neyland Stadium will see additional club space and removal of residence halls. among other changes.