$250 million infrastructure makeover keeps UTHSC competitive

High Ground News

May 21, 2014

The Johnson Building Photo by Richard J. Alley

The Johnson Building
Photo by Richard J. Alley

In 2007, the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) completed construction on the 90,000-square-foot, $25.2 million Cancer Research Building at the corner of Madison Avenue and Manassas Street. To say that the facility, or any improvement to the campus at all, was long overdue would be an understatement–it was the first new building for UTHSC in 17 years.

It was also the impetus for a formalized, five-year, $250 million master plan by the century-old institution.

Now at the midway mark, the plan includes numerous completed, underway or planned projects. The $49 million, 135,000-square-foot Translational Science Research Building is under construction at the corner of Manassas Street and Union Avenue and will be a mirror image to the Cancer Research Building that sits immediately to the north. The buildings of the Historic Quadrangle, a tree-canopied oasis that insulates students from the heavy traffic noise just to the south on Union Avenue, are due for a $68 million upgrade, with the Mooney Memorial Library being converted to administrative offices, reception area and meeting spaces, and the Nash Research Building and its annex renovated into research space. The Crowe Building there will become the College of Nursing.

The Shelton Feurt Pharmacy Research Building is across Dunlap Street from Health Sciences Park and will come down to make way for a $24.1 million Multi-Disciplinary Simulation and Health Education Building.

Upgrades and overhauls planned include the fourth floor of the Cancer Research Building for $4.8 million, $9.5 million on expanded research enterprises and office space in the Pharmacy Building, and retrofitting and renovating the medical library in the Lamar Alexander Building for $6.1 million.

Growth and upgrading are necessary to any institution of science and learning as technology is in constant flux, and as the recruitment of students and world-class researchers becomes increasingly more competitive.

“The infrastructure was very, very challenged,” says Executive Vice Chancellor and Chief Operations Officer Kennard Brown of his first exposure to the university campus.

Such infrastructure could be seen as a liability, unimpressive as it is to potential medical students. With 165 new enrollees per year, UTHSC is competing against several programs nationwide, including Duke, Wake Forest, Vanderbilt and Washington University among others, many of which can offer scholarships that a state school without a comparable endowment just can’t afford. In such an atmosphere, the facilities, the campus, whether or not the environment is conducive to learning and living, become all that more important to a student and his or her family.

“All of them are medical schools, we all graduate kids at the 98th, 99th percentile, we all have our standards, they all have to pass national boards to be physicians,” Brown says. “So academically we’re probably comparable, but what appeals to the kid, what appeals to mom?”

If the technology and infrastructure aren’t keeping pace, there is a greater chance UTHSC–and Memphis–won’t make the cut . . . (read more)