Tech celebrates grand openings of largest buildings on campus

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It was a big day last week for Tennessee Tech as students, faculty, staff, alumni and special dignitaries helped dedicate and celebrate the grand openings of the two biggest buildings on campus — the Laboratory Science Commons and the Marc L. Burnett Student Recreation and Fitness Center.

“The buildings we celebrate today are functional, beautiful and inspirational,” said Tennessee Tech president Phil Oldham. “These buildings enhance our campus and enhance the college experience for our students.”

The 160,000-square-foot facility that is the largest academic building in the history of Tennessee Tech. It is also the first LEED certified building, housing the chemistry department, a portion of the biology department and lab space for earth sciences, physics and environmental sciences.

The finished product is a massive structure that includes 106 miles of data cable, 960,000 feet of electrical wiring, 18,500 square feet of exterior glass and 39,000 bricks in the outside columns.

“There was no fear when this building was planned because it was built on understanding,” said Oldham. “Designers, architects, students and faculty spent month after month together planning the design.”

Included in the grand opening of the Lab Science Commons was the dedication of the Stonecipher Lecture Hall for Tech alum Harry Stonecipher.

“We need great moments like this,” said Oldham. “We need celebrations that make us stop and appreciate what is and what can be, and expressions of gratefulness for leaders like Harry Stonecipher and their belief in us.

The new recreation and fitness center also bears the name of a Tech alum.

Marc Burnett spent more than 36 years influencing students on Tennessee Tech’s campus, including his years of service as an administrator and advocate for diversity. A standout basketball player for the Golden Eagles, Burnett graduated from Tech in 1982 with a degree in English/Journalism. Burnett is part of one of Tech’s iconic moments by scoring the first point in Hooper Eblen Center history. In addition, he was a five-time captain of the men’s basketball team and also earned a master’s degree from Tech.

“For many students who have passed through here, Marc is the face and heart of Tech,” said Oldham. “Marc came to campus as a leader, even as a student. He retired with a legacy of leadership.”

Draped by family, former Golden Eagle basketball teammates, friends and former co-workers, Burnett choked back tears as he addressed the crowd.

“I am humbled by this honor,” said Burnett. “I love this university, and I love the students. Everything I did was for the students. That’s why I’m so glad that the word ‘student’ is included in the name of this building.”

Burnett has always been an advocate for diversity. He was appointed Tech’s first chief diversity officer and he helped raise approximately $1.2 million for the diversity scholarship fund. He was also instrumental in the founding and leadership for what is now the Leona Lusk Officer Multicultural Center, and is the first – and only – African-American vice-president at Tech. The naming of this building after Burnett is the first building named for an African-American.

“I am glad, I am so glad this building is named after Marc,” said Rob Owens, the interim vice president for student affairs and chief diversity officer. “If ever there was a person at Tennessee Tech who deserved a building to be named after him, it’s Marc Burnett.”

The new fitness and recreation center was completed almost a year ago, but with the pandemic, it hasn’t been fully functional or completely appreciated for the amenities it offers Tech students, faculty, staff and alumni.

The commanding three-level, 165,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art recreation and fitness facility features a basketball gym and multi-activity court, racquetball courts, retractable bleachers for spectators, 13,000-square-foot weight room, 6,000-square-foot cardio room, climbing wall, golf simulator, elevated track, aquatic center, dance studio, game room, and wellness and nutrition area. There is also an expanded childcare space as well as offices and large group exercise areas. Outside, there are basketball and pickleball courts. Additionally, the outdoor pursuits component allows students to rent outdoor equipment, such as kayaks and camping gear, to take advantage of the natural landscape in the area.

The new facility, designed by Wold | HFR Design, is twice the size of the 1991 facility it replaced. In 2013, students voted to increase fees to replace the old fitness facility with the new one.

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