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Tech unveils new engineering building designs

Architectural rendering of Tech's new engineering building.
An architectural rendering of the new engineering building at Tech. The new project will include a body of water that will be used as an environmental classroom.

Tennessee Tech unveiled initial designs for its new engineering building at the September meeting of the Board of Trustees.

Even though construction funding for the project was delayed as the State of Tennessee revised its 2020-2021 budget, Tech had received more than $3 million from the state in a previous fiscal year to begin planning. The building, with an estimated $57 million cost, remains the top priority for higher education construction projects, according to the Tennessee Higher Education Commission.

The new facility will be a fusion of innovation with the historic style of campus buildings, according to architect Gary Askew, featuring something for all of Tech’s engineering disciplines to promote cross-disciplinary functions throughout the buildings.

 Along with the main building, there will be a student lab building for groups like Tech’s championship Baja SAE team and the award-winning Formula SAE team.

The project will also feature a new water feature, dubbed Sherlock Lake, which will add to the visual appeal of campus and also serve as an outdoor classroom for students studying environmental engineering.

During a presentation to the board, Ken Chamberlin of Upland Design Group said the project will be in a good position to be able to break ground as soon as funding from the state is available.

The 100,000-square-foot facility is Tech’s first new engineering building in 50 years.

The board also heard an update about a new residence hall which will be located on the west side of campus, near the current intersection of Whitney Avenue and University Drive. This residence hall will combine an innovation space along with more than 300 residential spaces and has an estimated $30 million cost, which will be funded through student rental income. The initial timeline for the project has construction starting early in 2022, with completion during summer 2023. The hall would be open to residents starting that fall.

Graduation rates hit record highs

Tennessee Tech President Phil Oldham, in his report to the board, announce that Tech’s graduation rates have hit new highs, with the 6-year rate hitting 57%, 5-year at 56% and 4-year graduation rate hitting 40%, which is a “significant increase” from the 25% 4-year graduation rate for first-time, full-time freshmen entering in 2011.

“When students finish faster, they spend less money on college and begin earning professional salaries earlier,” Oldham said. “This is important because of the positive economic impact it has for these students.”

He also shared that Tech awarded more than 2,400 degrees during the 2019-2020 academic year, including a record-number of doctoral degrees.

Racial Diversity Task Force announced

Oldham told the board about the Racial Diversity Task Force, headed by Rob Owens, vice president of Student Affairs, that began meeting this summer and will be releasing recommendations for actions soon.

“I continue to reemphasize our institutional commitment to diversity, racial equity, and a pervasive culture of acceptance,” Oldham said. “It is a challenging time. A historic moment. An obstacle, some would say. But I just see this as part of what we do in life. We face what comes and we make our lives and the lives of others better for it.”

Trustee appointments

Thomas Lynn, a local banking pioneer and philanthropist, has been named to the Tennessee Tech Board of Trustees by Governor Bill Lee. He replaces Purna Saggurti, whose term expired this year. Saggurti was one of the original members appointed by then-Gov. Bill Haslam when the board was created in 2017.

A native of Cookeville, Lynn graduated with a B.S. in Management (1976) and an MBA (1979) from the College of Business at Tennessee Tech. He joined First National Bank of Tennessee in 1992, and was named Chairman of the Board in 2010, a position he still holds today.

Lynn will serve on the board’s Audit and Business Committee.

Gov. Lee also reappointed Fred Lowry and Barry Wilmore to the board. The terms of all three trustees are through 2026.

In other business

  • The board heard from Tech’s 2020 Eagle Works first and second place winners Brantley Marie Medical Devices, Inc. (formerly Intubation Nation) and Working Women Design Co. Both groups advanced to the LaunchTN 38|86 statewide student competition as two of only eight finalists. They competed virtually in August for $35,000 in awards. Brantley Marie Medical Devices took second place and a $10,000 prize. Working Women Design Co. also represented Tech very well.
  • Construction of the Laboratory Science Building is expected to be completed by the end of October, with classes taught in the building in the spring semester. The Stonecipher Lecture Hall, which is part of the new Lab Science Commons, opened late this summer and already has classes being held in it.
  • The Bruner Hall renovation is expected to be completed in May 2021, with classes returning to the building in fall 2021.
  • A new cupola will be installed atop Derryberry Hall during this year’s semester break.

Materials from today’s meeting and the webcast of the full board meeting are available at the board’s website, www.tntech.edu/board. 

The board’s next meeting is Dec. 1, 2020.

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