Thursday, October 23, 2014

[144] MTSU Science Building opens in grand style

Gov. Haslam, TBR Chancellor Morgan help usher in new era

MURFREESBORO — In the newly named Liz and Creighton Rhea Atrium, a large crowd celebrated Middle Tennessee State University’s new Science Building — a crown jewel considered the catalyst to the future in scientific endeavors.

About 300 people joined Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and university President Sidney A. McPhee Wednesday (Oct. 15) in christening the 257,000-gross-square-foot Science Building on the south side of campus.

The $147 million facility will thrust the MTSU scientific community into fast-forward in terms of research, collaboration and individual exploration. Six teaching lecture halls, 13 research laboratories and 36 teaching laboratories are just the start of the features for the building, which opened more than five months early. To learn more, visit

To watch video from the ceremony, visit

Haslam, who attended the May 3, 2012, groundbreaking ceremony, led the collection of guest speakers, who also included Tennessee Board of Regents Chancellor John Morgan, state Sen. Bill Ketron, and respective faculty and student representatives Tammy Melton and Kenneth Ball.

“By 2025, at least 55 percent of Tennesseans will need a certificate or degree beyond high school to find a job,” Haslam said. “Attracting and growing jobs in Tennessee is directly tied to education, and if we are not prepared to fill those jobs of the future, they will go somewhere else.”

“Graduates with STEM degrees are important to our state’s ability to thrive, and the additional space to train these students — provided by this building — will help us compete in today’s global economy,” he added.

Haslam challenged MTSU to produce highly educated, STEM-trained graduates to continue to attract high-tech jobs for the Midstate workforce.

After thanking many people and those in both the public and private sector, McPhee told the audience the building was just an abstract concept — or, better yet, a hope and a dream — especially after an economic jolt in the form of a recession delayed the state’s number one capital project in higher education nearly five years.

He praised the governor as well as key legislative leaders, local state lawmakers and local elected officials “who advocated our need in every corner of the Capitol until they were heard.”

Speaking on behalf of the local legislative delegation as its senior member, Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, recalled the political wrangling needed to move the project forward, saying, “We weren’t going to let any other (building) project get on top of the pipeline.” He said there are opportunities for MTSU agriculture in the world-class facility.

McPhee told the audience the Science Building “is critical to our continuing efforts to provide Tennessee with workers equipped for the challenges of the 21st century workforce, particularly in the science, technology, engineering and math areas.”

Eighty percent of the MTSU student population will take classes in the building, which opened more than five months ahead of schedule, in time for the Aug. 25 first day of classes.

“Our new Science Building provides a place of inspiration,” McPhee said. “When you walk the halls of this building … you will note the glass walls in each of the laboratories … where you can see for yourself the students and faculty collaborating on projects and conducting cutting-edge research.”

Faculty member Tammy Melton, who came to MTSU in 1999, offered words of praise and thanks to faculty who both preceded her and joined her in the effort to secure the Science Building.

Some faculty will be able to “pursue cutting-edge research because now there is the necessary equipment and the blessed space,” she added. “Our students will be fully equipped to compete with any other students in the country for jobs in the sciences, for placement in professional schools and for acceptance into graduate programs in the United States and abroad.”

“The building is a magnet,” Melton said in conclusion. “In the recruitment of new students and new faculty, we no longer need to apologize for existing poor facilities and offer promises of future construction. In 2014, the 21st century has come to MTSU chemistry and biology. The future is here. Now.”

Kenneth Ball, a senior general science major from Savannah, Tennessee, wanted to thank any and everyone who had a hand in the entire project.

“When I stepped in the door (Aug. 25), I was blown away,” said Ball, who gave a brief summary of how things were in Wiser-Patten Science Hall when he attended classes in 2011. “It was crowded in the Chem I lab (in Wiser-Patten) and there was no place to study.”

“This is the best-equipped building,” he said, referring to the Science Building. “It’s no longer crowded and there are places to study. It’s all directed at us — the students. I don’t think they could’ve made it any better.”

To watch MTSU research in action, visit

Donors provide critical support

McPhee emphasized the critical support secured from donors to produce the matching funds required as part of state funding of the project.

Dr. Liz Rhea was among the major private donors who attended the ceremony. She and her late husband, who died in 2004, have been longtime university donors. She gave “a generous bequest” early in the private funding process, McPhee said.

“I can’t believe it. This is just awesome,” said Rhea, an alumna (Class of ’55) and native of Eagleville, Tennessee, where seeds were planted in elementary school to become a physician, visiting the building for the first time. “This is more awesome and grandiose than I could imagine. Even pictures don’t do it justice.”

Students in pre-med, pre-dental or nursing — and future MTSU students — will have vast opportunities because of the technology in the facility, she said.

“I feel so strongly,” Rhea added. “It’s got to start here (Science Building). Here is where you’ve got to start studying and learn how to study. There is nothing like this to inspire you or fulfill your dream. … This will help with recruiting of better qualified students.”

Along with the Rhea Atrium, one other area of the building funded by donors includes:

• A state-of-the-art analytical chemistry lab named in honor of Dr. Gale Clark, who died in 2008. A gift from his estate will fund the lab he helped plan. His wife, Alee, gave the university their first house in Murfreesboro. Proceeds help fund a chemistry scholarship.

Among the donors McPhee recognized were:

• Bev and the late Doug Kanitz. Years before the state approved funding for the Science Building, Bev Kanitz, wife of the late engineering technology professor Doug Kanitz, made a pledge and she gave MTSU their Murfreesboro home when she decided to move to Cincinnati to be near her adult children;

• The Christy-Houston Foundation, a Murfreesboro organization led by Bob Mifflin. A $1.5 million gift from Christy-Houston provided a significant boost during a six-month period when the university needed to raise $20 million. The foundation has contributed $8 million to fund the Cason-Kennedy Nursing Building, the Tennessee Center for the Study and Treatment of Dyslexia, Student Health Services, Ann Campbell Early Learning Center (former Project Help) and School of Nursing scholarships;

• Alumna Gayle Duke (Class of 1965) and her husband, Dwayne, who are including MTSU in their estate to help future students study science in the new building. After graduating from the university, she went to work for NASA and had a hand in the U.S. landing on the moon; and

• Major commitments from Charlotte and the late George Gardner; Clara Todd; Dr. Dan and Margaret Scott; the City of Murfreesboro; Rutherford County and the Rutherford County Industrial Board.

MTSU President Emeritus Sam Ingram was among those who attended.

Other science news of note

Wiser-Patten Science Hall, which opened in 1932, and Davis Science Building, which opened in ’67, will remain open and undergo approximately $20 million in renovation and upgrades.

Meanwhile, the university learned recently that the Science Building is a LEED-certified project, achieving Silver-level certification. Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, is a set of rating systems for the design, construction, operation and maintenance of green buildings, homes and neighborhoods. It is the 254th LEED-certified project in Tennessee and the largest core learning higher education facility in the state.

Along with the grand opening and the LEED recognition, the Department of Physics and Astronomy recently learned the American Physical Society recognized it for improving undergraduate physics education. The department has “consciously adopted a mission to provide exceptional classroom
experiences, career-focused courses and pathways, and intensive research
opportunities to prepare students for targeted careers,” Deanna Ratnikova of the American Physical Society said of the honor.


About the MTSU Science Building

Groundbreaking date: May 3, 2012
Cost: $147 million ($126.7 million funded by state of Tennessee and more than $20 million through private donations)
Building size: 257,000 gross square footage
Building features: In addition to the newly named Liz and Creighton Rhea Atrium and Dr. Gale Clark Analytical Chemistry Lab, the facility includes six teaching lecture halls, 13 research laboratories and 36 teaching laboratories. Many of the labs feature outer walls made of glass, allowing people to observe research as it happens. There are many areas where students can have individual and group study, and some inner walls are actually large wipe boards where students can collaborate in solving scientific problems. There are offices for biology and chemistry faculty members, and College of Basic and Applied Sciences Dean Bud Fischer and his staff.
For more on the background of the facility, visit

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