Turning the page: UTC's new $50 million library inches toward completion

photo The south stairwell of the new UTC Library shows the state of construction on the $50 million building.
photo Blue data cable runs through one of 11 communications closets inside the new UTC Library. Students and faculty will take advantage of 178 Wi-Fi access points, according to Sam Ladue, lower left, data and voice installer for Boe-Tell Communications.

AT A GLANCEFeatures of the new UTC library include: 38 study rooms 3 practice presentation rooms 24-hour study space• Advanced media studio and creator space 7 classrooms 8 seminar and conference rooms• Grand reading roomsMovable stacks with storage for 600,000 volumes

Almost seven years after then-Gov. Phil Bredesen included $48 million to replace UTC's Lupton Library in a late addition to the state budget, and more than four years after the university broke ground on the project, a modernized library is inching toward completion on the UTC campus.

University officials learned Thursday that an already prolonged construction process won't be over until at least December. That dashed hope that the facility would be open for the beginning of the 2014-15 school year.

Once finished, though, the library will become a marquee place on campus and a milestone in the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga's long-term plan to bolster its connection with downtown. For students, university officials say, significant upgrades in group studying space and student-oriented technology will make it one of the best college libraries in the South.

"We think it sits at a premier location at Vine Street and Douglas Street," said Richard Brown, UTC's executive vice chancellor of finance and operations. "It's kind of a crossroads that leads into downtown Chattanooga."

The library's location also makes it an anchor on the perimeter of the old Chamberlain field site in the heart of campus that will evolve into a usable greenspace for the campus in the future.

Though the current target completion date is three and a half years removed from an initial goal of July 2011, Brown said students and faculty have expressed patience throughout the construction process, much of which coincided with renovations to Cardiac Hill in the center of campus.

"We've been saying to the students in the last three years, 'Pardon our mess, but it will be well worth it.'" Brown said.

An institutional contribution is bringing the library's total cost to about $50 million.

From its top floor, the new five-story building will offer views of downtown and the surrounding area.

For traditional library enthusiasts, UTC's dean of the library, Theresa Liedtka, stressed that hardbound books still are going to have a place. In fact, 90 percent of them will be housed on the ground floor, which opens up the rest of the building for group study space and other uses that align with the changed role of libraries on college campuses.

"Learning styles have changed," Liedtka said. "Twenty years ago, learning was individually based. It was all very text-oriented, obviously, since that's what we were really working with at that time. Whereas now, so many of our classes deal with group projects, and students ideally, even if they're not studying the same subject, want to be studying together."

Lupton Library, the current library on campus, stands east of Chamberlain field. It was built in 1974, and plans are to spend $35 million to $40 million renovating it into an instructional building. Brown is hopeful that money for that project will be included in the 2015 state budget.

Though Lupton Library is not necessarily old, there are advantages in transitioning to a facility that places less emphasis on housing books and more on establishing itself as the destination for academic life outside the classroom.

photo The new library at UTC is scheduled for completion late this year.

"With the evolution of information that has taken place where we've gone from a paper-based bound format onto online, it has freed libraries to think what we can make available to people and how we do so," Liedtka said.

"We really think the library is sort of the third place for students. When they're not in class and not at home, we want them in the library."

Liedtka attributed much of the delay in the building's completion to its nature.

"From what I understand, it's just a really complex building, and there have been delays as a result," she said.

Technologically, the library will be LEED-certified and feature a media studio space and more than 200 desktop computers.

When the old library opened, enrollment stood at 4,574 students. Now UTC is home to more than 10,000 students, and Chancellor Steve Angle is open to seeing that number rise to 15,000.

Beyond just serving a larger student population than its predecessor, Brown is optimistic that the new library can help attract fresh faces to campus.

"It's going to be marquee for recruitment," he said. "Anytime you open a brand new facility like that, students always gravitate to a university that's on the move and building new and exciting things. The design, the appearance, all of those things we hope will help us in recruiting new students and faculty and staff to this university."

One aspect of the new library is still unclear -- a name. UTC Library, as it now is called, is likely to yield to the highest bidder as naming opportunities for both the building and some of its interior spaces are available.

A Starbucks coffee shop will be housed in the library. A pair of 200-seat lecture halls adjacent to the library are also a part of the project.

"We've been working on this building and planning it since when I first started in facilities 20 years ago," Brown said. "So to wake up and really see this building done is really a crowning achievement for me as a CEO."

Contact staff writer David Cobb at dcobb@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6731.