The course of East Tennessee State University, plotted by a master plan four years ago and, more recently, a community-wide visioning committee, has taken some twists and turns in recent years, but officials believe it’s still on track to continue the school’s tradition of driving minds and economic development in the region for years to come.
Much has changed on the 340-acre campus since the Tennessee Board of Regents approved ETSU’s last master plan in 2010.
In between the plan’s approval and the statutory date for its renewal next year, the university said goodbye to retiring 15-year president Paul Stanton and welcomed Brian Noland as its leader.
With the change in personality came fresh ideas for the college and reaffirmation of some older ones.
To help the new administration make decisions guiding ETSU, the school formed the Committee for 125, which held several forums and roundtable events asking for goals for the university to reach by 2036, its 125th anniversary.
One notable carryover from the changing of the guard is ETSU’s proposed Fine and Performing Arts Center, although the prospective center has undergone changes over the course of its planning.
First proposed during Stanton’s tenure, Noland identified the theater, music and instruction space as one of his top priorities on his first official day as president two years ago.
But the center under consideration now is significantly different from the master plan.
The approved planning document recommended the center be built on the east side of campus, along University Parkway and across from Burgin Dossett Hall, with an accompanying parking garage.
That location remains a possibility, but Noland said it now serves as a backup plan to his preferred location — across State of Franklin Road adjacent to the Johnson City’s Millennium Centre.
For that location, ETSU and the city are still ironing out some details on the purchase of the property, namely, sorting out pedestrian movement across the busy road from the main campus and dealing with potential flooding issues on the site.
The college was cleared by the State Building Commission to use $1.5 million for design work, and so far fundraising efforts have brought in two-thirds of the school’s $9.5 million matching funding, but the state has yet to commit to the rest of the $38 million.
The report generated by ETSU 125’s task forces and community events highlights several goals for the university’s academic future.
Since the end of the visioning process, ETSU Chief of Staff Jeremy Ross said the school is in the process of developing or implementing 13 new academic programs.
Most of them have yet to get final approval, but Ross said the school is especially proud of its Master’s Degree program in Appalachian Studies, the only such program in the country, and the engineering program the school soon hopes to host on the main campus through a partnership with Tennessee Technological University.
This year, the school also launched OpenBUCS, offering free online courses to any individual with a computer and an Internet connection.
The instruction through OpenBUCS is free, but there are charges for exams and degrees, Ross said.
One visible completed project outlined in the school’s master plan is Thomas Stadium, the new baseball facility overlooking the campus from the northeastern corner of the intersection of State of Franklin Road and University Parkway.
Started in 2010 and finished in 2012 — although the stands weren’t completed until the 2013 season — the stadium was called an official home for the Bucs after playing on a city-owned field for years.
Although its stands are smaller than the 3,000 seats originally envisioned in the master plan, games at Thomas Stadium have been well attended, and university officials view it as a completion of one of the college’s long-standing sports goals.
With that feather in its cap, Noland’s administration has moved away from other athletics goals in the 2010 master plan.
For one, the school has no plans for building a basketball arena on the western third of campus, and instead appear to be moving toward a partnership with Johnson City to use Freedom Hall Civic Center for Bucs games.
The planned 8,400-seat campus arena would have taken on double duty as a venue for commencements, concerts and family shows, according to the planning document, and an accompanying 1,000-space parking garage would furnish convenience.
The parking garage is nearly completed, but the arena will never be started.
Ross said the partnership with the city for its arena is one of the urgings of the 125 Committee.
If an agreement is reached, the Bucs may play at Freedom Hall, while the city may be allowed the use of the Mountain States Health Alliance Athletics Center, the Minidome.
“The desire is more events will come to the region because of that partnership,” he said.
Another large priority for Noland, one not mentioned in the master plan, is the restarting of the ETSU football team.
Near the beginning of his presidency, the Student Government Association gave Noland the go-ahead to bring the program back after it was ended in 2003 by Stanton because of its expense and poorly attended games.
Noland said the program will legitimize the school in the eyes of prospective students and help increase enrollment.
Last month, the school, led by new head coach Carl Torbush, announced 47 players who will be members of the first football team at ETSU in more than a decade.
The team will spend all of 2014 training, and expect to play its first season in 2015 with a new football stadium expected to be completed in time for 2016.
After the completion of Governors Hall in 2007 and Centennial Hall in 2009, ETSU’s 2010 master plan contained relatively little in terms of student housing suggestions.
A few renovations were recommended for aging halls and the completed phases of Buccaneer Ridge Apartments sought to bring the campus’ bed count up to 3,138.
Ross said the high level of private investment in student housing recently have shifted the school’s focus away from new housing capital projects for the time being.
The master plan identifies location for four parking structures on campus, only one of which will come to fruition.
The plan, in the interest of moving parking to the exterior of the main campus, projected a growth of 2,500 spaces, driven mostly by garages at each corner of the grounds.
The garage projected on the northeast corner, intended to accompany the Fine and Performing Arts Center, would have included the public safety offices and a visitors’ center.
Those offices are nearly completed now, but will be on the other side of campus in the new garage off State of Franklin Road, which may indicate a shift of the intended official gateway into the campus away from University Parkway.
After months of delays, the new garage is expected to open any week now for student parking, but the offices likely won’t be occupied until the summer.
With the next mandated master plan period coming up next year, Hall said he believes the Committee for 125’s work will be relied upon heavily to formulate the next document.
“Right now, the report has been sent to the university planning committee, and they’re using it to drive the next master plan,” he said. “We didn’t intend it to be strictly adhered to, we wanted to ask the faculty, staff and students ‘What if?’ The idea was this report could help drive decision making, but it’s not a binding document.”comments powered by Disqus