KNOXVILLE — A little over a year ago, proposed changes to the Johnson University Tennessee campus were announced to students in chapel. These plans included the demolition of the Alumni Memorial Chapel, Bell Hall and the old gymnasium. It also included a remodel of the gymnasium in the Phillips-Welshimer Building and a new sports complex for student life activities.
Since then, the plans have been modified and revised. When construction began in late December, it was not what many students expected.
The president’s Memorial Garden started the process of new projects to take place on the JUTN campus. The Garden is being constructed behind the Glass Memorial Library and is projected to be finished by the end of this month.
Kevin O’Brien, director of operations, said “The president’s Garden is about 75 to 80% complete. They expect to be finished by the end of this month, if not a little before.”
Aside from the president’s Garden, two other projects have been decided upon. The Transitional Building and the Athletic and Recreation Center.
The Transitional Building will be constructed close to the Plant Services Building behind Richardson Hall.
“We expect to have dirt moving by the 1st of June, if not a little before,” O’Brien said.
The Transitional Building has a two-fold purpose. First to get the music department out of the Alumni Memorial Chapel. When the music department no longer needs the building, it will then become the campus services building.
“It is being constructed so that it can be immediately turned over into eleven office spaces, and then there are shop spaces that are below and behind it,” O’Brien said. “That will be the HVAC: heating, venting and air conditioning shop, and the electrical shop.”
The estimated completion of construction for the Transitional Building is March 31, 2018. The building is projected to be ready for student use by fall of 2018.
The athletic and recreational facility is still in the design stage, although it was approved by the trustees to be constructed.
“The architects have [the plans] and they’ll produce that to us within a week,” O’Brien said. “We’ll look at those again, might make a few revisions from there, but as soon as we settle in on what it is going to contain and look like on the interior, the exterior is set, then we’ll begin the process of hiring a construction manager and getting bids from sub-contractors.”
Construction for this project is expected to begin around the middle of July. The project is an estimated 12 to 14 month building process.
In companion with the new recreation building, a new regulation size baseball field and softball field will be added. The soccer field will be moved and the area around the field will be expanded. Six new tennis courts, a new outdoor basketball floor and sand volleyball area will also be constructed.
During the time of construction for the recreation building students will not be allowed on the athletic area. This includes the soccer and baseball fields.
“In the interim, while those fields are not in use, then our soccer team, our baseball team, our tennis teams will all have to practice off site and play off site,” O’Brien said. “They have all identified alternate locations where they can do that. They will not be able to host a tournament, they will be able to have home games, but they will be played off site.”
The building projects will not effect the tuition of the students. Funds are instead raised through churches, private individuals and other sources.
“We raise the money to pay for the building and then the students utilize it,” O’Brien said, “Students don’t pay for it.”
O’Brien said students will pay toward the general operation of the buildings, through their tuition cost and room and board, but the building expenses will not effect tuition cost.
“Beyond the transitional building and the recreational building, further constructions have not been discussed fully,” he said. “There are [only] preliminary designs for different situations.”
O’Brien said that Alumni Memorial Chapel will need to be demolished at some point.
“We can still use the auditorium until such time as the heating and air conditioning goes out and it’s too expensive to fix,” he said. “But between now and whenever they would decide to tear it down, it can still be used. We can still use it, but it is not, in the lower levels, suitable for classes to be held there any longer. And that is why they are moving the music program to the transitional building.”
O’Brien said that part of the reason the AMC needs to be demolished is because of an infestation of black mold that is beyond reasonable repair. O’Brien also said that the heating and air conditioning in the AMC is regularly breaking down.
O’Brien said there have been different proposals discussed, such as designing a stand alone chapel to replace the AMC. Ultimately, however, O’Brien said “Architects and consultants were out here and there is absolutely no affordable way to do it.”
O’Brien said that should someone present the necessary funding for a stand alone chapel, the PW gym would then become two floors of classrooms and office space.
O’Brien said that if a stand alone chapel cannot be funded in a reasonable time frame then the PW gym will become a full-time chapel.
“The stand alone chapel is the only plan that does not have a design if it were to happen,” O’Brien said. “Placement on campus is a sore topic. Making a dedicated chapel in the gym is an option that is alive and may be decided. We have to do what we can do.”
The original building proposal plan presented to the student body can be reviewed here.