Students returning to campus for the fall semester will be greeted by the iconic Volunteer statue on the renovated Torchbearer Plaza and Circle Park.
The rebuilt plaza has been widened to accommodate larger outdoor events and features new trees, streetscape elements, and sidewalks. Circle Park has been updated with new paths, landscaping, a new irrigation system, and XtraGrass, which blends and reinforces natural grass with artificial turf for improved durability.
That wear and tear is sure to come with the start of tailgate season and the larger crowds awaiting the Vol Walk and the Pride of the Southland Band march, set for just a month from now against the Sooners of the University of Oklahoma.
Workers are finishing up the project. Torchbearer Plaza and Circle Park will open on Monday, August 17. The torch will be relit at the conclusion of the project.
This is just one of the many projects that are rapidly changing the face of the campus.
“Someone compared what we do to a marathon,” said Dave Irvin, associate vice chancellor for facilities services, “but it’s actually a series of short sprints. We’ve been through the first few sprints, but there are more to go.”
Irvin said the pace of construction has put the university ahead of its long-term schedule for campus improvements.
“We are now accomplishing goals that the 2011 campus master plan did not anticipate us achieving for ten years,” he said. “To make such amazing progress in such a short amount of time is incredibly rewarding, and a lot of fun.”
The new academic year begins with $87 million in improvements having been completed in 2015, Irvin said, with more than $1 billion in work still under design and construction.
“Our goal is to transform student learning and living spaces through a vibrant, scenic, more pedestrian-friendly campus,” he said.
The first phase of the Student Union opened in June, and the building’s final touches are now being installed. Work on Phase Two—the next and final part of the project—is well under way, with demolition continuing on the remaining section of the University Center.
Landscaping and improvements are under way to improve links between buildings and areas of campus. The Engineering Quad on the Hill, set to open next week, will include a variety of seating that allows students to sit together in small groups or attend class outdoors. The quad also will provide improved access to the Science and Engineering Research Facility, Perkins Hall, and Ferris Hall. Landscaping work on nearby Estabrook Drive will continue into the fall, eventually featuring improved access to Second Creek. Tom Black Track and LaPorte Stadium are closed for renovation and are set to reopen in January.
The West End residence hall development project is picking up speed, with two buildings set to rise this fall on the site of the old Shelbourne Towers apartment building. Demolition of the old Apartment Residence Hall began last week.
Exterior walls on the building rising from the site of the old Gibbs Hall will be covered this fall, with the work then moving inside the structure. The residence hall is set to open in January 2017 and will feature a large campus-wide dining facility utilizing a fresh-food concept with executive chefs making food to order. The parking garage being built to the west of the hall is set to open in August 2016.
Faculty and staff already have moved in to newly renovated spaces at Henson and Perkins Halls.
Henson Hall, home to the College of Social Work, received upgrades to classrooms, additional student lounge space, study spaces, a computer lab, and new audio-video technology. Wireless internet connectivity also was improved in the building.
Perkins Hall is the new home for the College of Engineering’s ENGAGE and Honors Freshman Engineering programs. Existing classroom space was renovated, new classrooms and student lab space were created, and fire alarm and safety systems were upgraded. The building also houses the college’s advising, diversity, and international programs, and its Office of Professional Practice.
The Humanities and Social Sciences Building received additional classroom upgrades, an expanded retail area, and family-friendly and gender-neutral bathrooms.
Work continues on Strong Hall, with exterior walls going up this fall.
Preliminary site work is underway on the Ken and Blaire Mossman Building at Cumberland Avenue and Thirteenth Street. When completed in 2018, the building will house portions of microbiology, biochemistry, cellular and molecular biology, psychology, and nutrition, along with lab space and classrooms.
For more information on campus construction projects, visit the Cone Zone website.
Charles Primm (865-974-5180, email@example.com)