John Shearer: Visiting UT-Knoxville’s New Student Union

Wednesday, June 10, 2015 - by John Shearer

After reading that Phase 1 of the new Student Union at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville opened on Monday, June 1, I had been meaning to go by and see it.
 
Having trouble finding time, I finally decided to get up last Thursday morning and combine an early morning jog through campus with a visit and a picture-taking session.
 
And while I was down near the campus, I figured I might as well stop by and eat breakfast at the fairly new Bojangle’s by University Commons just west of campus.
At least that helped motivate me to get up and head down there about 7 a.m.
 
After jogging through the grassy part of campus – and doing a short wind sprint in front of the Humanities building hopefully without receiving any double takes from university workers or students – I walked over and took a picture of the Torchbearer.
 
Mr. Torchbearer is currently covered in a Styrofoam-like material as work is being done to expand the plaza area of Circle Park, so “he” looks a little like he is sitting in a giant Koozie.
 
I then headed past the amphitheater by Neyland Stadium – where a number of parents apparently on campus for freshmen orientation were sitting – and then to the Student Union just south of the old University Center.
 
And it was open. But at a little before 8 a.m., hardly anyone was there. Walking in the lower level by Phillip Fulmer Way, I noticed a neat looking flight of steps going up to the next level. And above that was another flight going to another level.
 
If UT football coach Butch Jones is looking for some creative off-the-field or off-season workouts, he should bring them up there sometime and have them run up the stairs.
 
Unfortunately, the steps were closed, as the first phase has not been completely finished. But they were a lot more interesting than the typical fire code stairs in an enclosed area, which the building also has.
 
The bookstore/Vol Shop on the level I was on was unfortunately closed at that time of the morning, so I went up to one of the food court areas and no more than five people were there. This fall, when the students are back on campus, the scene will be a far cry from that. Football game days will bring a few people as well.
 
Chick-fil-A was open and a worker let an adult man know his chicken biscuit he had ordered was ready – and was good and hot. I like Chick-fil-A for lunch or supper, but not as much for breakfast, so I held out for Bojangle’s.
 
I then went up to the next level, where a Starbuck’s and Subway were next to a long sitting area. Starbuck’s was open, but not Subway. However, I am not a coffee drinker.
 
Realizing the hour was getting closer to “Bo time,” I took a few outside pictures and then jogged – or maybe sprinted -- back to my car and hightailed it to Bojangle’s. Yes, by then I had definitely worked up an appetite. For the record, I had a cinnamon pecan twist with extra icing, a gravy biscuit, a milk, and a 49-cent VIP soft drink, which I refilled on the way out. 
 
What I did to deserve the VIP drink, I do not know. Too bad it did not have a Koozie!
 
After getting back home and thinking about my visit throughout Friday, I realized I wanted to get some pictures from inside the bookstore/Vol Shop, so I went back late Friday afternoon. Fortunately, it was still open, so I took a few pictures.
 
Although I am not an alumnus of UT and my blood does not run deep orange – even though I have enjoyed my experiences getting to teach some classes there – I saw a couple of T-shirts I would liked to have had.
 
One was a Tennessee Lady Volunteers T-shirt in the team blue color, and the other was a T-shirt that had the outline of the state and said, “I will give my all for Tennessee today.” But the store unfortunately did not have my XL size with either shirt, so maybe I need to jog more, or at least not eat at Bojangle’s so often.
 
For some reason, the air conditioning was not working in the bookstore. It was probably related to the opening work still being done.
 
I also went up briefly to the career services floor near the top, but it looked like most everyone had gone home. I did notice a number of neat glass booth type rooms, possibly for interviews or training.
 
While I love the booth rooms and the long stairs, as well as the outside, overall the building does not have the sense of coziness or of having a small community feel that I might have liked or what was found in the old University Center. In fact, the atmosphere almost seemed a little sterile to me.
 
Perhaps it will seem more comforting and inviting when Phase II opens in a few years with an auditorium, meeting rooms and recreation space.
 
Regardless, the current and incoming students will probably enjoy it greatly.
 
And I will, too – especially if it ever gets a Bojangle’s.
 
Jcshearer2@comcast.net

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