ETSU President Noland discusses capital projects' role in growth of university

Brandon Paykamian • Jul 20, 2019 at 7:00 PM

East Tennessee State University has witnessed a period of unprecedented growth in terms of capital projects since President Brian Noland took the helm in 2012.

In his time as president, the construction of the $26 million William B. Greene Jr. football stadium was conceptualized and eventually completed in 2017. Now, renovations to the D.P. Culp University Center and the construction of the long-anticipated James C. and Mary B. Martin Center for the Arts are both set to be completed soon.

Noland recently spoke with the Johnson City Press to discuss the future of the university, which he hopes will enroll nearly 4,000 more students by 2026. Noland said facilities need to be expanded and updated to help meet this goal.

Renovations to the Culp Center are nearly 70% complete and on track to be completed by the first quarter of 2020. The $45.5 million renovation project will add an extra 28,000 square feet to the building.

Noland said the building was built in the 1970s during a time in which enrollment was around 7,500 students.

“Now we’re at 14,600 students, and there’s just simply not enough places in the old building to feed everyone,” he said. “It had all the ramps; it had one elevator. It was a wonderful architectural idea at its time, but the renovation really opens it up.”

ETSU officials are also looking forward to the new Martin Center for the Arts, which is set to be completed before the fall of 2020.

“This region has dreamed of a building like the Martin Center since the ’80s,” Noland said of the $53 million construction project.

Despite these developments, Noland said some facilities “aren’t where they need to be yet.” Over the next few years, he said he’d like to bring Mathis, Burleson, Rogers-Stout and Brown Halls “up to speed,” along with the renovations to Lamb Hall.

“I was in Brown Hall in the summer, and Brown Hall doesn’t look that different than it did in the ’70s,” Noland said.

“Our students are coming with a different set of expectations. We’re a top 20 institution for students who want to go into pre-med; number 14 PT program in the nation; largest College of Nursing in the state of Tennessee,” he later continued. “But our basic science facilities aren’t where they need to be.”

Earlier this year, ETSU requested $71.8 million from Gov. Bill Lee’s budget for a new humanities building. Noland said he hopes to see this need fulfilled in the coming years.

“It’s a priority because a lot of the classrooms through which the bulk of our gen ed (courses) are taught are not at the level you’d see at secondary education or some of the community colleges transfer students are coming from,” he said.

But Noland said he and university officials aren’t giving up just yet. He said the university ran into many of the same roadblocks with the Martin Center project.

“The Tennessee Higher Education Commission has changed the way they do capital (projects), so they’ve prioritized projects based upon need. We were number nine on the list two years ago; we were number five on the list next year,” he said of the humanities building project. “I suspect next year, we’ll be two or three.

“Let’s look at the Martin Center. Martin went on the capital list in the ’80s,” Noland continued. “It took forever to move through that process.”