ETSU campus aerial (Photograph by Doug Thompson)
The next step in making what East Tennessee State University President Dr. Brian Noland called a dream for many in the area a reality has been taken.
At a Thursday morning hearing in Nashville, members of the Tennessee State Building Commission unanimously lent their formal approval to ETSU’s proposed performing arts center project, paving the way for the university to begin the project’s design phase.
“The action by the Building Commission today is a milestone achievement,” Noland said. “The action by the Building Commission today takes us one step closer to realizing a 25-year dream of the citizens of East Tennessee for an arts center and a home for the arts at ETSU.”
Now that the state has approved the project, Noland said the next step for ETSU will be the selection and assignment of architects, which will be followed by design work on the facility. Noland said university officials hope design work can begin early in the spring semester.
“Many people thought this day would never come, that the project would formally be approved by the state and that we would begin the process of acquiring architects to assist in the formal design, down to the classroom level, of the facility,” Noland said.
Noland said the SBC’s vote is not contingent on the center’s location, and ETSU officials are continuing the evaluation and analysis of two potential sites for the facility — one on campus, and the other the Lot 1 location adjacent to the Millennium Centre.
“We continue to remain in the research process related to the positives and negatives of each of those two sites,” he said.
In his 2013-14 budget, Gov. Bill Haslam recommended approval for ETSU to use $1.5 million to begin planning for the facility, which is estimated to cost approximately $38 million. ETSU is required to fund 25 percent, or approximately $9.5 million, of the total project.
“We remain active in our fundraising efforts,” Noland said. “To date, we’ve raised slightly in excess of $5 million, so we’ve passed the halfway point toward our overall $9.5 million fundraising goal.”
Noland said the university hopes to complete the fundraising requirement by July. He also said before construction begins on the facility, the proposed center must be placed onto the list of funded projects in the upcoming legislative session.
“I feel very confident that the efforts we’ve made across all of East Tennessee to more than halfway pass our fundraising goal in very short order will position our project to be favorably received in the upcoming legislative session,” Noland said. “Our ability to begin construction work is predicated on the project being funded.”
The proposed center, Noland said, will include classroom facilities, recital space, lecture halls and performance spaces. He said the center will also serve as a venue to host everything from ETSU theater performances to performances from nationally recognized acts and touring groups.
“This facility will serve as the home for the arts at East Tennessee State University,” he said. “It’s also a facility that will provide a venue for us to engage with the community as a whole in concerts, performances and lectures.”
Noland also expressed his appreciation of the Tennessee Board of Regents, in particular Chancellor John Morgan, and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, whose support of the proposed center has been “unwavering,” Noland said.
“The facility is critical to transforming the arts in East Tennessee, and the lieutenant governor has a rich appreciation and understanding of the importance of this facility,” Noland said. “We would not be here today having this conversation if it were not for the lieutenant governor and for Chancellor Morgan.”
Noland said construction of the performing arts center will take several years to complete but, in working in partnership with the governor, lieutenant governor and legislative delegation, he said university officials hope to be in a position to break ground on the center some time next year.
“There’s still a lot of work to be done, but today takes us one step closer to that 25-year dream,” Noland said.