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KNOXVILLE — The University of Tennessee launched construction of its new 13,700 square-foot Black Cultural Center at a groundbreaking ceremony here Tuesday.

UT President J. Wade Gilley said the building is a major step in UT’s commitment to create a more diverse atmosphere on campus.

“The University of Tennessee strives to provide a learning environment that embraces a variety of thoughts, perspectives and ideas. We appreciate the educational and social value of diversity,” Gilley said.

“The new Black Cultural Center will help UT recruit and retain top minority students and serve as a valuable educational resource for all students.”

The building at Melrose Avenue and Melrose Place will contain space for a library, meeting rooms, computer labs, offices and other resources.

Gilley said existing student fees would fund the $2 million facility. The anticipated completion date is spring 2002.

A crowd of more than 200 UT students, staff, faculty and administrators, state and local officials, and visitors from the Knoxville community attended Tuesday’s ceremony.

“This project is another way UT is providing educational opportunities, cultural services and other resources to all members of the campus and Knoxville communities,” Knoxville Mayor Victor Ashe said.

Theotis Robinson, UT vice president for equity and diversity, said the center would help promote diversity and cultural understanding on campus and in the Knoxville community.

“This building links UT and the African-American student population, but its many resources are open to help all students and local community members address a wide range of academic, intellectual, and social topics and issues,” Robinson said.

Dr. Jane Redmond, UT assistant vice provost, said a center task force was established in September 1998 consisting of faculty, staff, students, alumni and members of the community. Its charge was to plan a facility that would make important cultural contributions to the campus climate and create a welcoming environment for students.

Redmond said the new Black Cultural Center would house the Office of Minority Affairs, which she directs. Plans also include a courtyard, artistic sculpture designed from student proposals and wireless technology allowing students on portable computers Internet access without having to plug into a wall network port.

Redmond called the building “a beacon of light for future generations.”

“Many student groups have been involved in the planning process and are very excited about this state of the art facility,” Redmond said. “It will serve as a symbol of the university’s commitment to multiculturalism and diversity and send a positive message that UT recognizes and appreciates a truly diverse population.”

The building was designed by Adams, Craft, Herz, Walker architectural firm of Oak Ridge and will be built by Knoxville’s Johnson and Galyon contractors.