With Gov. Sam Brownback as a special guest, Fort Hays State University officials gathered this morning to break ground for a new academic building.
Rain forced the proceedings indoors, to the Memorial Union's Stouffer Lounge.
Scheduled to open in June 2014, in time for the start of the 2014-2015 academic year, the 37,150-square-foot Center for Networked Learning will house the Virtual College, the Center for Teaching Excellence and Learning Technology, the Department of Informatics, the radio and TV studios, an integrated newsroom, and laboratories for FHSU's new information systems engineering program. The plans include 1,400 square feet of "shell space" for future growth.
"Incredible advances in technology have transformed FHSU as an institution of higher learning, creating the need for a new model of academic space to capitalize on the potential of virtual learning environments, experience-based education, cultural enrichment and new approaches to discovery, research and creativity," said Dr. Edward H. Hammond, FHSU president. "The Center for Networked Learning will provide a perfect setting for these advances in education."
The president also noted that the new academic building, with its emphasis on communication technology, comes at an opportune time. "I just received recommendations from the Task Force on Dissemination of News and Information," he said. "As we decide how to implement those recommendations for creating a new model of integrated student media, we will have the Center for Networked Learning available to provide whatever space is needed."
Dr. Hammond thanked Gov. Brownback for attending the ceremony. "In light of Gov. Brownback's grand experiment to accelerate the Kansas economy, we are pleased to point out that this project will have a major impact on our local economy. Paul-Wertenberger Construction Inc. of Hays is our general contractor for the project, and RDH Electric and Werth Heating Plumbing and AC are sub-contractors. We are also pleased to emphasize that no state tax dollars were appropriated for this building."
The president preceded his introduction of the governor with an announcement that the new building's lobby would be named the Dole Family Lobby, in honor of former Sen. Bob Dole, his brother and two sisters, for their history of support and service to the state and their financial support of this particular project as well.
"Congratulations on a fabulous new facility," said Gov. Brownback. He picked up on Dr. Hammond's announcement of Sen. Dole's support, noting that, when Dole was first elected to the U.S. House, Kansas had six representatives. Now it is four, "headed toward three," he said. Kansas was then the 29th most populous state in the country; now it is 35th "headed toward 36th."
The governor promoted his economic plans for the state as the counter to a program of "managed decline," and then pointed to Fort Hays State as perfect example of growth and progress, the antidote to "managed decline."
"Fort Hays State is a great model of how you do it," said Gov. Brownback. "You provide a great education and you hold your tuition down, and strangely, people respond and your enrollment goes up dramatically. It's not without risk and it's not without difficulty, but if you don't do that, your trajectory is probably on the other path."
He also gave a preview of the themes he would address at a news conference he would hold immediately following the ceremony to promote his plans for funding higher education in Kansas.
"But," he said, "today's about Hays, Fort Hays State -- great growth, great future." And, speaking of the university's new information systems engineering program that will be housed in the building, he called it one of the key higher education investments to be made in the future of the state.
"God bless you, congratulations," he concluded, "and go Tigers."
Representatives for FHSU faculty and students also spoke during the ceremony.
"Construction of the Center for Networked Learning is a great example of synergy between our forward-thinking, world-ready philosophy and the growth of the campus," said Dr. Chapman Rackaway, professor of political science and past president of the Faculty Senate. "When we build, we build smart. This project will create new opportunities for faculty and students. The timing syncs perfectly with the media task force's recommendations. Both provide us a chance to build interdisciplinary bridges that in the end will serve our students better."
Kyle Calvin, president of the Student Government Association, called the beginning of construction on the Center for Networked Learning a monumental day for the university.
"One of my reasons for coming to this campus nearly three years ago, besides its affordability and high-quality education, was the appealing campus," Calvin said. "Construction of this new academic building over Big Creek instead of through it is a testament to the university's continued preservation of the resplendent landscape and environment."
He continued: "I can tell you already my favorite part about this building, before construction has even began, and that is it hasn’t come at the expense of the student. Neither student fees nor tuition were increased in order to construct this building. With this decision, FHSU has decided not to contribute to the increase of national student debt that now ranges above one trillion dollars. Also, by not forcing students to foot the bill, we are effectively allowing more access to higher education."
The Center for Networked Learning, at a cost of more than $10.5 million, will complete an ambitious array of four major construction projects at FHSU. The first -- an extension of Dwight Drive -- was completed in July 2012. The total project cost for the road, which was built by Apac-Kansas Inc. of Hays, was about $500,000.
Another recent capital project is the Schmidt/Bickle Indoor Training Facility, which is nearing completion. It is scheduled to open at the end of this month. With a cost of nearly $4.2 million, the 50,400-square-foot indoor athletic training facility is located at the southeast corner of the FHSU campus near the football stadium.
The fourth project is the new residential facility on the site of the former Agnew Hall. The new Agnew Hall, with 123 beds, opened before the start of the current academic year. The second phase, Heather Hall, will provide an additional 107 beds when it opens in fall 2013. The total cost for the project is $9.2 million. Paul-Wertenberger Construction is also the developer/contractor for the Tiger Place project.
Opportunities are available for alumni and friends to partner with FHSU in building and equipping the forward-thinking Center for Networked Learning. Donors may have their names attached to a space within the new facility, such as a photo studio, the newsroom, a student lounge, a conference room or any entryway. Spaces are first come, first served. For information about naming opportunities, call the FHSU Foundation at 785-628-5620 or visit http://foundation.fhsu.edu/cnl.php.