More than $530 million in construction underway at the University of Tennessee

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University of Tennessee Associate Vice Chancellor for Facilities Services Dave Irvin describes the various construction project happening across UT’s campus.
Brianna Paciorka/News Sentinel

Students at the University of Tennessee may have enjoyed a break from classes the last few weeks, but that doesn’t mean work on campus has stopped. 

With more than $530 million in new construction underway at UT, crews kept busy building a new student union and science laboratory, despite the sub-freezing temperatures over winter break. 

The student union, first approved by the State Building Commission in 2008, is now 10 years in the making and expected to open in spring 2019.

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Progress on both projects, as well as a three-phase $234 million redevelopment of the west end of campus, will take place this semester.

And that’s not all. 

Neyland Stadium project

Plans for $340 million in upgrades at Neyland Stadium were approved last fall with construction on the first phase of the project scheduled to start this summer.

The university is expected to announce in the coming months the design of a $138 million engineering building it expects will help launch its nuclear engineering program to among the country’s best.

All in all, more than $1 billion in construction is in the works or has recently been completed at UT. 

“As soon as one project finishes we’re off to the next one,” said Dave Irvin, associate vice chancellor for facilities services. “It’s, by any way you want to measure it, overwhelmingly the most construction this campus has ever done and among the top in the country in terms of the amount of construction going on.” 

So what’s up next for new facilities on UT’s campus?

New science lab building to open in August

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Campus leaders expect the construction of the Ken and Blaire Mossman Building, a $118 million laboratory science center, to be completed by May. That means departments could move in over the summer and classes in the new building could start in August. 

Located at the intersection of Cumberland Avenue and 13th Street, the lab site was formerly occupied by three Victorian-era homes and the subject of debate over the university encroaching on the Fort Sanders neighborhood.

After one homeowner at 1302 White Ave. initially declined to sell, the university ultimately purchased the home for $1.1 million, then turned around and sold it to a local preservationist who moved the house to a new address on nearby Clinch Avenue.

Read more: UT begins buying Victorian houses to make way for new science building

Three years later it will soon be the site of a six-floor building that will house portions of the school’s microbiology, psychology, nutrition, biochemistry and cellular and molecular biology programs.

Views from the upper floors include the iconic Ayers Hall across the street and the sparkly gold Knoxville Sunsphere. 

It will have labs, general purpose classrooms, a landscaped garden with outdoor seating and interactive lecture halls. 

Completion date for student union pushed back again

Progress is expected on the new student union, although the university has again pushed back its target completion date, now estimated at spring 2019.

The State Building Commission first approved the project — to be funded almost entirely by student fees — in 2008 at an estimated cost of $116.6 million. 

By the time its design was approved in 2011, its size increased by 30 percent to 390,000 square feet and the cost was pegged at $160 million.

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It now stands at 395,088 square feet and $181.74 million. 

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UT originally estimated the total project, to be completed in two phases, would be completed by 2016.

The first, smaller phase opened in June 2015 and includes 144,018 square feet spread across five occupied levels. It includes the Vol Shop, bookstore, colorful dining and career services facilities, and an outdoor plaza. 

UT then said the total project would be completed by spring 2018. Last week, however, the university said it now expects a spring 2019 completion. 

The second phase will include a 999-seat auditorium and performance space, a 12,000-square-foot ballroom, a two-story conference room for up to 150 people, student recreation areas, the Vol Card Office, lounges and additional conference and meeting space.

West Campus redevelopment

Construction also continues on the West Campus Redevelopment project, the first phase of which was completed in 2016 with the opening of the Orange and White Residence Halls. 

Two additional residence halls will be rebuilt as the project continues, along with a $35 million dining facility.

The dining facility, which will be financed completely by UT’s food service contractor, Aramark, is expected to be a model the company will showcase to other universities around the country, Irvin said. 

It’s scheduled to open in January 2019. 

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The project won’t add to the number of students that can be housed on campus but it will make UT’s student housing more attractive and help with recruitment. 

“What we had before were high-rise residence halls built in the 1960’s that were fine for that time, but it didn’t meet today’s students’ needs or their expectations,” Irvin said. 

With classroom space built into the new residence halls, he said it will also help retain students and foster “living and learning communities,” where students live with others studying in the same field.

Other projects in the works or recently completed 

The Stokely Family Residence Hall, a $94 million, 186-apartment building off Volunteer Boulevard, opened in January 2017. Work also continues on the rebuild and streetscape of Volunteer Boulevard, the main artery through campus.

Strong Hall, a $114 million sciences building now home to the biology, chemistry and planetary sciences departments, opened in June. 

One aspect of that project, Cowan Cottage, remains under construction and is scheduled to finish this spring.

In December, UT was recognized at the Knox Heritage Preservation Awards for its remodeling of the 1800s cottage, which will be converted into a student-oriented space for meetings, lectures and events this spring. 

“We want to build buildings that reflect what it means to be at UT and that harken back to the best of our traditions,” Irvin said. “You’re going to know you’re at UT and it tells you right away what it means to be part of our campus. It helps us tell our story both to new students and to visitors.”

 

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