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Students, staff, and current and retired faculty, along with friends of the university, gathered Friday to celebrate the official opening of Strong Hall, UT’s newest state-of-the-art classroom and laboratory building.

“It is such a beautiful space, and space matters,” said Chancellor Beverly Davenport during the ceremony, which was held in the building’s atrium. “The nation’s eyes are on us because of this building.”

She said Strong Hall is the ideal locale for students to “learn, make discoveries, and make contributions to the state and the world.”

Strong Hall houses the Division of Biology and the Departments of Chemistry, Anthropology, and Earth and Planetary Sciences.

Strong Hall’s three-year construction wrapped up last spring. The building opened for summer classes in June. The 268,000-square-foot facility includes general purpose classrooms that can be converted into flexible teaching spaces. 

Theresa Lee, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, noted that Strong Hall was designed to allow easy collaboration between floors and laboratories in order to foster expanded research and more interdisciplinary work.

“Every entering STEM major on campus who will walk into this building will take classes in truly state-of-the-art laboratories and regular classrooms, where a far more active and exploratory approach to learning is possible,” Lee said.

The building also features 150- and 250-seat lecture halls. Both lecture halls are named after Nancy and Jimmy Walls.  Jimmy Walls was a geology professor for 47 years taught an estimated 40,000 students. He was also UT’s longtime golf coach. His widow, Nancy Walls, who attended Friday’s event, provided the university a gift that was used to help furnish the laboratories, including those for her husband’s home department—Earth and Planetary Sciences.

The building was constructed on the site of the original Sophronia Strong Hall, UT’s first women’s residence hall, which opened in in 1926 and housed 50 women. Benjamin Strong left the university a gift to construct the building in honor of his mother, who lived from 1812 to 1867. Strong Hall expanded in 1939 to house a few hundred women along with meeting spaces for sororities.

The innovative new building incorporates historic details from the original 1926 residence hall. They include the original stone archways, which have been reinstalled on the west side arcade facing Clement Hall. Stone pieces carved with names of the first five female students enrolled at UT were saved to be part of a remembrance of the site’s history on the east side of the building’s exterior.

A portion of the original hall was saved and attached to the main hall to be used as exhibit space and conference rooms inside the main corridor.

The Cowan Cottage, a 19th-century gardener’s cottage adjacent to Strong Hall, is being refurbished and will be available for use in January. Once part of a Victorian estate that stood on the site, it is the university’s oldest Victorian-styled building and domestic residence.

The total budget for the project was $114 million, of which the state provided $75 million. The Lewis Group and SLAM Collaborative designed and constructed the project. Rentenbach and Messer were the construction managers and general contractor.


Lola Alapo (865-974-3993,