Work begins on TTU learning commons, campus data network upgrade

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Douglas Bates, TTU’s new dean of library and learning assistance, in front of the Angelo & Jennette Volpe Library where the new learning commons is under construction.
Navigating the Angelo & Jennette Volpe Library at Tennessee Tech University this semester may require a bit more help than usual, but the payoff is big.

Work is already under way to create TTU's learning commons on the library's second floor entrance level by August 2011.

The commons will become a modern, collaborative learning environment filled with the latest technology delivering blistering-fast wireless connectivity and the best research assistance available anywhere. It will incorporate group and individual study spaces and provide students with tutoring in everything from calculus to composition.

The commons is part of an aggressive campuswide strategy to boost student success and retention.

The learning commons is made possible with more than $2.01 million in one-time federal economic stimulus funding. It's all part of the larger $10 million technology upgrade that will blanket campus with network connectivity 10 times faster than today's speeds.

Funding for the project is primarily from federal stimulus dollars and no student fees are being used for the project.

Yet, it is students who will benefit the most. First, however, there will be some inconveniences at the library.

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Volpe Library employees must move 7,000 shelves of periodicals to make way for electrical contractors.
Students will notice changes at the library almost immediately upon return to campus, said Douglas Bates, TTU's new dean of library and learning assistance. Bates joined TTU this July and has been assigned by Provost Jack Armistead to transform the library.

The second floor entrance level of the library is being cleared to prepare for electrical contractors who are expected to begin work in mid-December. It's a monumental task. Some 7,000 shelves of periodicals must be relocated, circulation and other services must find new homes, and the floor's bay of computers will go up one story.

"We've determined that the best course of action is to clear the second floor so that the construction work can be done faster. We'll work through the end of this semester to clear the floor and move everything to other floors of the library," Bates said. "It'll be a tight squeeze, but I have a good sense that we'll still be able to offer everything that we offer now, just in different locations."

Elsewhere on campus, crews braved this summer's hot temperatures to install fiber optic lines to academic and administrative buildings. Tech is in the midst of a major campus network upgrade, said S. Deivanayagam, associate dean for graduate studies and research for the College of Engineering and chairperson of the task force assembled to oversee the technology upgrades.

Work progressed this summer for cabling to buildings, hardware purchases and initial design work for the learning commons and Clement Hall power system upgrades, he said.

"There's not going to be a whole lot of disruption to current accommodations in Clement Hall. We think the transition will be seamless," Deivanayagam said.

Once the technology upgrades are complete, most of the 235-acre campus will be blanketed in wireless connectivity and wireline connections will be 10 times fast than they are today.

"Our wired connections will be gigabit and wireless will be a minimum speed of 130 megabits, scaling up to 300 megabits," said Danny Reese, TTU's associate vice president, information technology. "It's amazing when you consider that all this data is flowing over optical fiber, which is a strand of glass not as thick as a human hair."

TTU's new campus data network will use switching components from Santa Clara, Calif.-based vendor Extreme Networks. Chattanooga-based Excalibur Integrated Systems is handling network design, migration and maintenance work.

> NOTE: Watch for regular updates about progress at the Volpe Library via the library's website and the library's Facebook page. You can also refer to the Dean's Blog for further information.