Just a little more than a decade ago, the University of Memphis began its most ambitious construction phase since the 1960s, resulting in a sweeping new look all across campus. A state-of-the-art library, the cutting-edge research facility FedEx Institute of Technology, an all-inclusive new bookstore and the multi-use Michael D. Rose Theatre have ushered the University into the 21st century with the tools needed to compete at the highest levels in regards to research, education and student life.
But the University hasn't stopped there.
Part of the University’s master plan includes a move of the School of Law to the stately U.S. Customs House and Post Office downtown.
In spring, the U of M unveiled plans to move its nationally recognized Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law to the stately U.S. Customs House and Post Office facility on Front Street in downtown Memphis. In late August, University administrators cut the ribbon on an innovative Living/Learning center at the student housing apartments Carpenter Complex. And in December, the school will begin demolition of the University Center, paving the way for an exciting new UC that will enhance campus life for students and be a "crown jewel" for the U of M.
"To be competitive with other universities, we have to stay on the very edge of the latest in teaching and research facilities," says U of M President Shirley Raines. "We take the success of our students very seriously — we continually look for ways to improve the quality of their education and their on-campus experiences."
That means designing a master plan for the entire University that is both visionary and practical, according to Tony Poteet, assistant vice president of Campus Planning and Design.
"Some of the overall goals in our day-to-day operations are to develop a safe and secure campus with a great sense of community, easy access and pedestrian-oriented," says Poteet.
The University's long-range master plan, Poteet says, seeks to improve classroom environments, expand research space for faculty, increase the number of lecture halls and to provide student involvement areas, such as the UC.
Proposed new projects — contingent on funding and future U of M needs — include a new music building, an addition to the current nursing facility, additional student housing and rerouting of campus-area streets for a more user-friendly campus. A soccer stadium that works in tandem with the U of M's current track and field complex on the Park Avenue Campus (formerly South Campus) is also a possibility for the future.
But for now, the University is focusing on the projects at hand that will ensure a bold and vigorous campus for years to come.
New center for student life
The 38-year-old building that currently stands adjacent to the U of M's Alumni Mall is big enough. Situated in the center of campus, it is convenient enough. But somewhere in the past few years, as technological advancements have changed the face of college campuses everywhere, the University Center has become obsolete. So, this winter, the old UC will be torn down with a modern, user-friendly facility taking its place. With construction estimated to be completed 21 months after demolition, the facility should open in 2009.
"We want this new building to be the hub of student life, something that the University will be proud of for decades to come," says Bill Porter, dean of students.
Plans for the new UC include a large computer lab, open food court, a stand-alone restaurant, lounges, ballroom, post office and 350-seat theatre. The building will stand three stories high with approximately 170,000 square feet.
The facility will accommodate a more elaborate dining center with seating for several hundred people and various separate menu themes similar to what is found in Tiger Den, the University's centrally located dining area. The separate restaurant will include both dining and recreation in the same area, a sort of all-inclusive leisure zone.
Monies have been put aside from student fees accumulated during the past few years to cover the cost of the project. No grants or donations will be used. The project is the largest ever undertaken by the University without the use of any state funds.
The current University Center was built in 1968-69. It served as the setting for several scenes of the movie The Firm and has hosted dignitaries from around the world, among its hundreds of thousands of events. But slowly the building has become somewhat of a dinosaur and was no longer the center of student life on campus.
Renovation costs were similar to costs of constructing a new building, so U of M administrators and the Students Activities Council preferred the latter.
For more information on the UC project, including construction updates and relocation plans, visit http://saweb.memphis.edu/uc/newuc.
Law in order
The University is moving forward with plans first announced in spring for a School of Law move downtown to the U.S. Customs House and Post Office.
According to Poteet, the move accomplishes three things.
"It will double our library space, improve classroom atmosphere and will place our law students downtown in close proximity to many law offices," Poteet says.
Adds School of Law Dean James Smoot, "We know we have the best law school in the state, but we need to put the program in a building that is appropriate."
The U of M could begin holding classes in the downtown building as early as 2009. The acquisition of the facility is being made possible with $5.3 million in private funding while the $42 million renovation will be covered by state funds.
"The move downtown will give the U of M's law school a showplace and a downtown presence that rivals any university in the United States," says Richard Glassman (BS '69, JD '72), senior partner at Glassman, Edwards, Wade and Wyatt PC and past president of the University's alumni association.
The 120-year-old building boasts four courtrooms, the original brass window cages and hardwood paneling, and magnificent architecture. It includes 140,000 square feet, a vast improvement over the 59,000 square-foot building the law school currently uses.
Living and learning, together
In August, the U of M began the school year by launching a Living/Learning Community in Carpenter Complex student apartments. Four new units and one that was renovated house students of similar academic pursuits, with the idea that students of the same major who live together and who learn together prosper in their overall educational experience.
Part of the University’s master plan includes the creation of a Living/Learning Community in the student apartments Carpenter Complex.
"We have had other specialized on-campus living communities, such as honor students living together and first-time freshmen living together," says Dr. Chrisann Schiro-Geist, vice provost for Academic Affairs. "Those communities have been very successful so we decided to extend it to a specialized community that houses students of the same discipline."
The new units in Carpenter house students majoring in foreign languages and literatures and architecture.
"The Architecture House [in Carpenter] provides a living and learning community for architecture students to work together to enhance their educational experiences through expanded academic, social and professional development activities," says Michael Hagge, assistant professor and coordinator of the architecture program. "Within this unique, integrated home and studio environment, residents build leadership and shape intellectual and ethical development."
Plans call for students from other majors to be brought together in similar living/learning communities.
The University updates its master plan every five years, as mandated by the Tennessee Board of Regents. Plans and proposals can change, according to funding and needs.