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VOL. 10 | NO. 45 | Saturday, November 4, 2017

University of Memphis Moves Ahead With Campus Changes

By Bill Dries

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After completing the Laurie-Walton Family Basketball Center practice facility on its Park Avenue campus, the University of Memphis recently pulled a $33.5 million permit to start construction on the parking garage and land bridge over the Southern Avenue railroad tracks – the most-immediate indication of changes on the main campus in the next three to five years.

University of Memphis students wait for a train to pass on the railroad tracks between Southern Avenue and campus. The path soon will be converted to a land bridge over the tracks. (Memphis News/Houston Cofield)

The tracks, which have been in place since the property was farmland, are fenced off, with gated crossings set up in several specific locations. And the area on both sides of the tracks has been landscaped with retaining walls on what had been a sloping hill for pedestrians to cross.

A print shop on Southern is gone as work begins this month on assembling the garage.

Tony Poteet, U of M vice president for campus planning and design, told university trustees last month that what is now Echles Street will become a pedestrian mall ending at the land bridge and parking garage.

“Over the next three to four years, you are going to see some exciting developments on campus,” Poteet said.

The other capital projects ready to come off the drawing board and begin construction during that time are an amphitheater on the alumni mall – the greenspace south of the administration building that has long been a gathering point for students – and a long-awaited realignment of the Patterson Avenue intersection with Walker Avenue and Southern.

Under the current configuration, drivers on Patterson must stop at Walker, then make two more turns to cross the tracks. Plans call for Patterson to be redrawn for a direct crossing.

Also in the works is the Center for Health and Wellness, which has been redrawn as a $30 million project to match the revenue available from student fees. The 47,000-square-foot new construction will be added onto the existing student recreation center and is scheduled for a 2020 opening.

Artist’s rendering of the University of Memphis campus, showing the land bridge as a centerpiece linking Southern Avenue to a plaza and amphitheater.

And a $40 million. 95,000-square-foot music building is slated for the north side of Central Avenue east of Deloach Street.

“At the heart of that effort is really trying to improve our neighborhood connectivity,” University of Memphis president M. David Rudd told trustees last month. “That’s not possible without integration into the neighborhoods.”

The U of M’s main campus spans 213 acres, with 99 buildings that total 5.1 million square feet and are an average of 45 years old, according to the university. The 146-acre Park Avenue campus comprises another 62 buildings totaling 735,718 square feet and averaging 55 years old.

The school also owns 64 properties it leases out; those buildings total 126,014 square feet across 15 acres and have an average age of 76 years.

Taking into account the Lambuth campus in Jackson, Tennessee; the Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law in Downtown Memphis, the Chucalissa archeological site; a biology research reserve; satellite campuses in Millington and Collierville; and the Meeman Biological Station with locations at Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park and Brunswick, the University of Memphis owns 271 buildings with 7 million square feet of space on 1,659 acres, with 419 of those acres maintained. The average age of all of the buildings the university owns is 59 years.

The immediate plans and a long list of other brick-and-mortar projects come as the university’s headcount enrollment – one of several ways of counting how many students attend the city’s largest institution of higher learning – has topped 21,000.

At the October trustee’s meeting, Rudd put the headcount for 2017 at 21,805 students, compared to 20,585 in 2015. The three-year span marks his tenure so far as president.

He cautioned that the headcount isn’t the best way to count students, as colleges and universities these days are judged and funded by states based on completion rates and the time it takes students to graduate.

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Rudd’s goal is an enrollment of 3,000 full-time, first-time freshmen. The university has 2,712 this fall, down 100 from a year ago.

The U of M has graduated an average of 4,314 students annually for the past three years, with most of them being undergraduates. That marks a 15 percent increase in the average from a decade ago, according to Rudd, and a 26 percent increase in undergraduate degrees.

Rudd said the university is becoming more competitive for the highest-performing students in Memphis and losing fewer of them to the University of Tennessee and other in-state colleges and universities. And Rudd told trustees the U of M is “far more competitive” for students in East Tennessee and Nashville.

During Rudd’s three years as president, the university has raised more than $96 million from private sources toward programs and construction.

Rudd hopes to have an announcement in December about the university’s quest for Carnegie 1 research status.

The Carnegie Commission on Higher Education classification is part of the university’s ongoing drive to develop research facilities that are nationally and internationally sought after by researchers.

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