A Review Of UT-Knoxville's New Facilities

Tuesday, September 10, 2013 - by John Shearer

If you are a University of Tennessee at Knoxville graduate and have not been to campus in a while, you might think you are in the Emerald City, not Big Orange Country, during your next visit.

This is especially true with the bright and green Natalie L. Haslam Music Center for the UT School of Music.

But this is not the only shiny new facility UT has opened this fall, as the John D. Tickle Engineering Building is also now being used 200-300 yards southeast from the Haslam Center and just on the other side of Neyland Stadium.

As a result, two major academic buildings have opened on campus this fall for the first time since 1949.

And just west of campus on Sutherland Avenue is the major RecSports Complex featuring numerous intramural fields.

The UT football team, of course, is also now using its new Anderson Training Center, and construction is nearing completion on almost all of the houses in the new Sorority Village.

While the Music Center is probably my favorite of the two academic buildings, the Tickle Building is nice as well.

Featuring 114,000 square feet of space, the $23.2 million structure houses the departments of civil and environmental engineering on the first four floors, and systems and industrial engineering on the fifth floor.

The building is named for the UT alumnus and capital campaign benefactor, who has headed the Bristol, Tenn.-based Strongwell Corporation, the maker of a variety of construction-related materials.

What makes this building interesting is its variety of architectural-related features that you don’t see on every building.

For starters, it has a miniature, Golden Gate Bridge-style pedestrian walkway bridge on the Hill side of the structure. The span quickly and appropriately brings thoughts of engineering feats, so maybe that is appropriate for an engineering building. The bridge is also made of pultruded fiberglass manufactured by the Strongwell Corporation.

Also inside the building are some high experimental work bays with giant garage door-like entrances.

But what will really catch an eye on the inside is a tall structure that looks like a water tank or maybe even a giant beer keg. But don’t worry, parents, it will be used only to fill flumes with water for hyrdraulic experiments.

Besides the building’s attributes that really jump out at a viewer, the building also has more subtle features that also attract attention. These include the detail on the restroom entrances, and a large open stairway.

Designed by Grieve Associates Architects and I.C. Thomasson Associates Inc. with other consultants, the building seems to be nicely done overall. It reminds me in style of the Min Kao Building, the fairly new electrical engineering and computer science building on the northeast corner of the Hill.

My favorite of the two new buildings, however, is the Natalie L. Haslam Music Center.

Although I am one who likes to give buildings a few years before judging their architectural or historical legacy, I must admit I have already fallen in love with the Haslam Music Center.

For starters, its greenish glass panels on the outside remind me very much of an early 1960s modernist-style building. It is also shaped in somewhat of an unusual V shape.

I also like how the brick columns in the front stand in line like piano keys or violin strings.

While I must admit I have not toured many of the practice rooms, including the large band room, which now allows the giant UT Pride of the Southland Band to practice in the same room, I did see one room I love – the Sandra G. Powell Recital Hall.

It seems to have an attractive layout that is somewhat reflective of a concert hall of old. It features a balcony, a Steinway grand piano on the stage, and some beams attractively and artistically placed along the walls to help with acoustics.

The Volunteer Boulevard building – which was designed by Barber McMurry architects of Knoxville and was constructed where a smaller, 1960s-era music building was located -- also has some neat translucent stairway decking.

The 123,000-square-foot structure cost $40 million, somewhat more than the engineering building, and was named for benefactor Natalie Haslam. She is the wife of Pilot Flying J founder Jim Haslam Sr. and the stepmother of Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, whose mother died in 1974.

I happened to interview her briefly when the groundbreaking ceremony was held, and she said she did not have any special music talent, only a deep appreciation for music and its contribution to society.

Both the former Hudson football practice fields and the former Glocker business building on the UT campus were renamed in honor of benefactor Jim Haslam Sr. after they were greatly remodeled.

In my opinion, the building seems ready to become one of the favorite and most-beloved buildings on campus.

The UT RecSports Complex for intramural sports off Sutherland Avenue about two miles from campus looks almost like a private golf or sports club with its well-manicured spread of grass fields.

The $14.6 million layout features four natural grass fields, four artificial turf fields, three beach volleyball courts, and two softball fields. A main building with restrooms and other amenities, a picnic pavilion, and a maintenance facility can also be found on the grounds along with some fancy brick-lined walkways and gathering areas.

The layout is a far cry from the small number of intramural fields that have been on campus for years next to the school track, fields that have also been shared with the UT Pride of the Southland Band.

The entire grounds of the Sutherland Avenue complex are also closed off with a nice metal fence, brickwork and gates. The gates are locked during times of non-use, and throughout the complex are several signs stating that the fields are strictly for UT students and staff.

While I understand that UT doesn’t want to have its fields damaged by overuse from others simply looking for a nice facility in which to have a little recreational fun or team practice, I personally might have created a little more of an open door policy to create even better community relations.

I would have simply told the public to bring a doggy bag if you are walking your dog, and to not hit golf balls and take divots out of the grass that does look like it is from a nice course.

The more lenient policy might have helped maintain even more the legacy of this area, which was reportedly where some of the city of Knoxville’s earliest integrated recreational games took place decades ago.

UT did make a gracious outreach effort by having a continuously open trail leading from a new parking space down to the Third Creek Greenway, which provides access back to campus for energetic students wanting to reach the fields on foot or bike.

Overall, I would give UT an A each for the RecSports Complex and the Tickle Engineering Building, and an A+ for the Haslam Music Center.

I also happened to tour briefly the Anderson Training Center by the indoor football practice field during a special Knoxville United Way kickoff program there. It is obviously nice as well with its large weight room, theater-like team meeting room, and other offices and gathering areas.

However, I still would rather spend time in the Haslam Music Center.

To see a slide show of numerous photographs of the Tickle, Haslam and RecSports facilities, click on the arrow in the middle of the photograph accompanying this story.


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