The facility will be the university’s first LEED Certified space

By Amye Anderson
UCBJ Managing Editor

COOKEVILLE – From sketches on a napkin to shovels in the ground, construction on Tennessee Tech University’s largest academic building is officially under way.

Tech’s top brass, along with city, county and state officials were all on hand Friday afternoon to celebrate the groundbreaking of the university’s new 164,000-square-foot laboratory sciences building.

“This is about more than bricks and mortar today,” said Lee Wray, Tennessee Tech’s Chief of Staff, during the ceremony. “It’s really about what the heart of this campus is about – our students. We’re building this for the future of our university.”

The $90 million facility, slated for a fall 2020 completion, was funded by the state of Tennessee in the university’s 2016 budget appropriation. A total of $1.1 million in private support was also reportedly raised for the facility’s construction.

The new laboratory sciences building will house Tech’s chemistry department as well as a portion of the biology department.

In addition to being the university’s largest academic building, the new laboratory sciences building will also be Tech’s first LEED-certified facility. LEED, or Leadership in Energy Efficient Design, is a widely-used green building rating system overseen by the US Green Building Council. Certified buildings must meet strict efficiency and sustainability criteria. That certification is being funded by student sustainability fees.

The new laboratory sciences building will be located at what is currently the site of one of the campus’ parking areas, north of the Capital Quad residence halls and will anchor a new academic quad. It will house Tech’s chemistry department as well as a portion of the biology department. More than 17,000 square feet of lecture halls and lab space inside the new facility will be available for use by earth sciences, physics and environmental studies. The new building will also serve general education requirements for all majors on campus.

A new science building has been in the plans for the last decade; give or take a few years. Earlier drafts for phase one of the project, beginning in 2005, included a central utility plan, a parking deck, and, of course, a new chemistry building.

“If we had built the 2005 chemistry building that was planned then, we would have outgrown it by 2013,” said Paul Semmes, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

Those plans were revisited in recent years and the early phases were reimagined to meet current and future needs of those departments.

In 2013, during a conference to learn more about current science building designs, the preliminary sketches of Tech’s newest science building were scratched out on a napkin in an Italian restaurant in Boston.

In those sketches, each private and securable faculty research lab opened into a collaborative research area shared by a few additional faculty members and student office space was located adjacent to each laboratory.

“We provided our ideas to construction and design teams working on this project and they designed a way it could work,” said Chemistry chairman Jeff Boles, Ph.D.

Approximately 40 faculty members were tapped to lend their input throughout the various planning stages of the project; working closely with the architects of Upland Design Group and Bauer-Askew Architecture to design a space that would meet the needs of the students and faculty for years to come.

“That’s not always true in new building construction,” Boles said. “I have colleagues at other universities that simply have not been able to be as involved when their buildings were designed and then constructed… We say to one another, ‘We can’t believe that we get to be this involved in the process.’”

After a decade of the project inching closer and closer to the top of the university’s to-do list, it has finally found its way to the top. Now, with shovels in ground and equipment in place, the next phases of the project can begin. The Christman Company will serve as the general contractor for the construction portion of the project.

Once complete, the new facility will feature state-of-the-art, cutting-edge equipment. Classrooms have been designed to improve the student-to-teacher ratio; ultimately improving the one-on-one attention each student receives.

“The ultimate winners in all of this are our amazing students,” said Tennessee Tech President Phil Oldham.

Currently, there are more than 3,400 students enrolled at Tennessee Tech who are seeking degrees in biology, chemistry, physics, earth sciences, wildlife and fisheries science, environmental studies and pre-professional health sciences combined.

Amye Anderson is the managing editor of the Upper Cumberland Business Journal and can be reached at amye@ucbjournal.com.