Changes Over The Years, On UTK's Campus

Thursday, January 23, 2014 - by John Shearer

University of Tennessee alumni and supporters from the Chattanooga area who have not been to the campus in Knoxville lately might not recognize it.

In fact, buildings and facilities are seemingly coming and going almost as fast as students are.

The school has within the last couple of years completed such projects as two large new engineering buildings on the edge of the Hill part of campus, and a new music building and a sleek student health building alongside Volunteer Boulevard. Some additions to the veterinary school have also been made, the Sorority Village is nearly finished, and a fancy intramural sports complex has opened on Sutherland Avenue a couple of miles away.  

But that is just the beginning. In this era when the campus may be even outdoing its physical growth during the expansive 1960s, the state’s flagship university has about another half dozen projects underway or set to begin in the near future.

They include the demolition of the Presidential Court dorms for a new housing complex, a major addition to historic Sophronia Strong Hall, the demolition of Stokely Athletics Center for new construction, and the development of Cherokee Farm just across the Tennessee River/Fort Loudoun Lake.

And on the western edge of campus where the Fulton Bellows plant formerly sat, a privately constructed shopping complex geared to students is being built. It is scheduled to house a Publix grocery store and a Wal-Mart, and will feature a road connecting to the Joe Johnson Bridge near the Allan Jones Intercollegiate Aquatic Center.

Because of some environmental and structural issues, the facility is uniquely being built on top of the foundation of the old plant, with a parking deck to be located under the two anchor stores.

Perhaps the most surprising recent announcement regarding the campus deals with the planned construction of six new residence halls and a community and a dining facility to replace the massive Presidential Court.

After looking at renovating South and North Carrick, Humes, Reese, Morrill and Apartment Residence halls, officials determined it would be more feasible to tear down and build anew in the suite style more popular today in dorms.

The price tag is expected to be $234 million.

Some people over the years have critiqued the current high-rise buildings as having a stark, Eastern bloc-like blandness about them, while others have praised such features as the modernist-style dining hall with all its glass and cantilevered-style shape.

Regardless, the 1960s-era buildings have been a big part of UT residential life for thousands of baby boomers and subsequent generations.

The nearby Shelbourne Towers, which was opened as a private building a few years earlier than Presidential Court, is to be the first structure torn down later this year as part of the project.

And speaking of dorms, the Fred Brown dormitory for 700 men and women is taking shape just east of Presidential Court. It is scheduled to open this year and is the first dorm built on the campus in 43 years.

A unique aspect of this dorm is not necessarily any up-to-date feature, but its name. The late Mr. Brown was the creator of the Office of Diversity Programs in the UT College of Engineering and is the first black person to have a building on the UT campus named in his or her honor or memory.

One of the oldest former dorms, meanwhile, is being transformed almost beyond recognition. The old Sophronia Strong Hall on the UT campus, which opened as a women’s dorm on Cumberland Avenue near the current pedestrian bridge in 1925 and was rumored to be haunted over the years, is being transformed into a science facility.

Upon completion of the $114 million project, Strong Hall will house anthropology, earth science, and planetary science, with instructional and lab space for biology and chemistry. The remodeling will require some science as well, as basically only the arched front facade, the Tudor-style back side and some other small features will remain from the original building.

Preserved amid the high-tech changes, though, will be a small structure dating back to much simpler times. The small Queen Anne Victorian garden cottage in the northeast corner will be preserved and used by the university. It dates to before the dorm.

Perhaps the biggest piece of news regarding campus changes for those who like UT history, particularly as it relates to sports, deals with Stokely Athletics Center. Initial work has begun on tearing down Stokely and the old Gibbs Hall athletic dorm.

Stokely was opened as a basketball facility and part Armory in 1958 and was expanded to its current size in 1966. Today a high fence barrier sits around this building where men’s coach Ray Mears and women’s coach Pat Summitt set a proverbial high bar for UT basketball. 

Gibbs Hall opened in 1963 and for years served male athletes only. In later years its Spartan, mid-century look on the outside was greatly changed, and eventually it was opened to all students as athletic dorm regulations around the country changed.

A parking garage, a new dorm for all students and more UT football practice field space are scheduled to go where Stokely and Gibbs have sat.

Just across Fort Loudoun Lake from campus, the Cherokee Farm development is taking place. This former riverside farmland that was once used by UT for one of the most ancient of sciences – cattle agricultural research – will now be used for the most advanced.

As part of a joint venture between UT and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, a 16-building complex is planned for the site. One building – the Joint Institute for Advanced Materials – is currently under construction.

The EMJ construction company of Chattanooga was involved in the Cherokee Farm site preparation work.

Some walking paths are also planned for the space, and a manmade amphitheater is already in place. But perhaps little announced about the site is that a number of acres along the water have changed minimally since cows roamed the land.

A grassy walking and jogging path cleared during the warm season is evident, and from here a person can get the feel of still being back in another time.

However, all it takes is a quick look around to realize that modern times have come to the UT campus.

(To see photographs of some of these building projects, simply click on the arrow on the YouTube slide show accompanying this article).
 

Jcshearer2@comcast.net


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