Middle Tennessee State University broke ground May 3 on its long-awaited $147 million Science Building, a project that will help the institution produce more college graduates ready for emerging high-tech jobs.
The turn of the shovels also was the official construction launch for the building, which is aiming for a spring 2015 opening date.
Gov. Bill Haslam said the building will help address the state’s need for more college graduates, especially in STEM areas—science, technology, engineering and math.
“Graduates with STEM degrees are vital to our state’s ability to thrive and compete in the 21st century economy,” Haslam said during the ceremony. “With more space to train in these areas, this building will help us toward our goal of increasing STEM graduates.”
The governor included almost $127 million for construction of the Science Building in his 2012-13 state budget, which passed both chambers of the General Assembly late Monday. About $20 million has been spent to prepare for the facility.
“It is fitting that we celebrate the end of the University’s yearlong Centennial observance with this investment toward its second century of service,” Haslam added.
Middle Tennessee State Normal School opened in 1911 to educate Tennessee’s teachers. Its focus has expanded with enrollment, course offerings, buildings and acreage in the century since then, but the University’s science facilities have not kept pace.
MTSU’s enrollment has almost quadrupled in the last 43 years alone—from 6,779 students in 1968 to 26,442 in fall 2011—with no increase in space for science education. The university’s existing Wiser-Patten Science Hall and Davis Science Building were built in 1932 and 1967, respectively, and have a combined total of only 75,332 net square feet.
The new MTSU Science Building will provide more than 250,000 gross square feet of teaching, faculty and student research laboratories and collaborative learning spaces. At least 80 percent of all MTSU students will take at least one class in the new building.
“As we begin our second century of service to the State of Tennessee, today’s ceremony for this $147 million educational-and-scientific facility project for our university is an appropriate capstone to our year-long Centennial Celebration,” said MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee.
Despite the existing facilities’ shortcomings, MTSU granted almost 700 degrees in biology, chemistry and related fields in 2009-10. McPhee said that number could increase by 25 percent after the new science building opens.
Officials noted that the new Science Building will help meet the America Competes Act by creating more science grads for high-tech and science- and math-teaching jobs, as well as enhancing the region’s economy and make it more competitive for federal grants and contracts.
“This $147 million project represents one of the most significant investments made by the state of Tennessee toward enhancement of science and technology education,” said Chancellor John Morgan of the Tennessee Board of Regents, which governs MTSU.
“TBR and its institutions understand well our responsibility to produce more graduates for the state’s workforce, and this facility will help us enhance our system’s already strong performance in this regard.”
McPhee expressed the University’s thanks to Haslam, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and state House Speaker Beth Harwell for their leadership and support of the project.
The President also thanked the entire Tennessee General Assembly, but signaled out Rutherford County’s delegation for their persistence and dedication: Sens. Bill Ketron (R-13th District) and Jim Tracy (R-16th District); and Reps. Joe Carr (R-48th District), Pat Marsh (R-62th District), Mike Sparks (R-49th District) and Rick Womick (R-34th District).
Under this year’s state budget, the Legislature proposed and adopted a new funding formula for major capital facilities in higher education, requiring institutions to provide a portion of the building costs.
MTSU’s share of the new Science Building comes to $18 million, which it will raise by a combination of dedicated student fees, an internal reallocation of funds and private support.
Part of those private dollars will come from three supporters recognized at the ceremony.
George and Charlotte Gardner, McPhee said, “are two of our most loyal alumni and have been active supporters of the University for many years. They recently made a gift to be used toward the completion of this project and hope that their gift will inspire others.”
Dr. Liz Rhea, a longtime MTSU supporter and alumna, made a major bequest dedicated to the Science Building, “which will ultimately help us reach our fundraising objective,” the president said.
“For many years, this amazing lady has committed her time, talents and, yes, her gifts to helping make MTSU a better place for our students,” McPhee said.
The Christy-Houston Foundation made a major gift to purchase equipment for the new Life Sciences Laboratory, which will be used to train students in biology and the health sciences, McPhee said.
“We are pleased that so many of our friends, supporters, students, faculty and staff are here today to help us celebrate this vital investment in the future of our University,” the president said.
Watch a video of the event below; for more details on the new MTSU Science Building, visit www.mtsunews.com/sciencebuilding.