As plans progress toward safely bringing University of Tennessee, Knoxville students back to campus this fall, construction projects are moving ahead at full speed.
Buildings and pedestrian areas are taking shape, but most importantly, numerous enhancements are under way to protect the health and safety of students, faculty, staff, and visitors.
“Visitors to campus, especially those who have not been back since spring break, will see progress in many areas,” said Dave Irvin, associate vice chancellor for facilities services. “The safety of our community is our highest concern, and we’re taking steps to enhance it.”
Health and Safety
Facilities Services pivoted its priority list this spring and summer to focus on safety upgrades for campus spaces, Irvin said, to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“We’ve installed plexiglass screens in select locations, paper towel dispensers in restrooms, and hand sanitizer stations, Clorox wipe stations, and automatic faucets, toilets, and door openers,” he said. “It’s all part of trying to reduce what surfaces need to be touched by students, employees, and campus visitors.” Irvin said they are prioritizing campus buildings and offices with a high volume of foot traffic.
Another step UT took to enhance safety on campus, Irvin said, was to require that all construction contractors provide a COVID-19 management plan. The university is monitoring those plans to ensure compliance.
“Chancellor Plowman has spoken about transformational thinking, and we’re doing it,” he said, “looking not only at our construction projects but also what do we do next. How do we update our classroom designs to emphasize safety and allow for an easy switch to online learning if it again becomes necessary? This gives us the opportunity to take another look at how we serve students, because it always comes back to that. It’s our core mission.”
New Engineering Complex
The biggest change that visitors will see on campus, Irvin said, is at the site of the new Engineering Complex next to Neyland Stadium. “The structural steel has gone in and the exterior walls are rising, so you can really get a good idea of its eventual size,” he said. When finished in fall 2021, the facility will provide 228,000 square feet of classrooms, offices, and state-of-the-art research space for the Tickle College of Engineering.
West Campus Dining Facility
Another big summer project is the west campus dining facility. “When students, faculty, and staff left campus in March, it was a hole in the ground. Now the foundation is finished with structural steel in place,” Irvin said. The facility will include a retail area and two floors of dining space with the same fresh food concept used in Stokely Hall, as well as a full-size Chick-fil-A. “We’re going from a well-used but outmoded 1950s facility to one that our food service partner Aramark is touting as the best in the country,” he said.
Pedestrian Walkway Expansion
Work also continues on extending the Joe Johnson–John Ward Pedestrian Walkway from the Clarence Brown Theatre westward along Andy Holt Avenue to Frances Street. Facilities Services recently released a new video rendering of the expansion work, and Irvin said it gives a sneak peek of the fun design changes they have planned.
“The eastern end of the pedestrian walkway is more formal, but as you go west it becomes more landscaped, with curved paths and lots of places for students to sit and engage with each other—especially near the dining facility, which will offer outdoor seating,” he said. “It’s a wonderful contrast and a great complement to the streetscaping work along Volunteer Boulevard.”
During and after construction, the Office of Equity and Diversity and a service road along the north side of Fred Brown Residence Hall will remain accessible, and a section of Melrose Avenue that was formerly one-way will become two-way. This phase of the expansion should be finished by the end of 2020. At that point, the expansion work will pause as construction continues on the new dining facility.
White Hall Reopening
The final touches are being placed on White Hall, which is reopening this fall after an extended closure to replace the building’s exterior brick veneer. “We’re excited about the reopening, because we will need that space to help us with social distancing, as well as adding a new facility for our students.”
For more information on campus construction projects, visit the Cone Zone website.
Charles Primm (865-974-5180, firstname.lastname@example.org)