UT acquired state approval to alter its master plan to include the possibility of purchasing three homes on 13th Street and White Avenue.
By law, any changes to the campus master plan must be approved by the state legislature. The area between Jessie Harris and Hoskins Library currently has three homes and a university-owned parking lot, which UT hopes to transform into a state of the art science building complete with new laboratories, classrooms and offices to accommodate the science departments' need for more space.
Currently the building plans to add 200,000 square feet of space, less than half of the 560,000 currently listed as needed for the campus' growing needs. If the state legislature approves funding, the building could be finished in early 2017.
"There are also labs being laid out for a much more interactive style of teaching, so there will be a lot more group study, much more collaborative learning," Dave Irvin, associate vice chancellor for facilities services, said. "We did look at lots of other sites, but this is the only one that we can make work both functionally and economically and works with all the other departments that need to use it."
According to Irvin, the decision to select the properties was not an easy one, but rather was made out of necessity. The new building is set to house parts of the chemistry, BCMB and nutrition departments, and thus must be near that part of campus. While there are other pieces of property UT owns that could become available, none exist that could be realistically used for those departments, Irvin said.
While Irvin has left open the possibility that the homes may not be needed at all as the project goes into the design phase, he did indicate that, if purchased, the homes may not face demolition. The houses could be incorporated into the future building for use as a study area or lounge for future students. He said they are looking to challenge the planners to try and save as much of the properties as possible.
"We anticipate having a very creative architectural team that has done a lot of these kinds of projects, so we're going to challenge them and say, 'see what you can do creatively,'" Irvin said. "The (White Avenue) homes in the Fort have huge historical significance to both Knoxville and UT."
Students such as Hunter Todd, a junior in architecture, hope that the houses can be preserved.
"It is a shame to see them go, especially those that have been well maintained and add to the character of the Fort," Todd said. "Any possible way to save the houses as a whole or incorporate them into a new building would be beneficial to both students and Knoxville residents."
The currently unnamed building is expected to house parts of several different science departments while buildings such as Dougherty and Dabney-Buehler undergo renovations.
"The places where those class labs are now would then be renovated into research labs, because we don't have nearly enough research space," Irvin said. "We have faculty who could get research grants, could have more undergraduates helping them with research, but we just don't have places for them."
While much of the construction on campus is funded with the student facilities services fee, Irvin said more finances are needed to move forward with the rest of the campus master plan. However, there has not been any talk as yet about increasing student fees to pay for the construction. Instead, the university's proactive approach to construction aims to take advantage of the historically low interest rates the country is experiencing, allowing UT to save money over the long term by taking out loans now.
Planned construction on White Avenue also includes the old Strong Hall building, which is scheduled to be demolished and replaced with another science and research facility. That building has been financed by the state but is expected to be completed sometime in 2016. Residents of Clement Hall are not expected to be bothered by the construction, other than the noise.
Throughout all the ambitious plans, Irvin remains optimistic about UT's goals.
"This campus, more than any I know of, has been very forward thinking, very aggressive in meeting the goals of that master plan, but it's a long-range plan... it has buildings out there for twenty or thirty years. We've been very aggressive, so we're probably at about our 10-year time frame at two and a half, three years of that master plan."