2020 Renovation & Construction Showcase: Student Union, University of Tennessee

Student Union 

University of Tennessee | Knoxville, Tennessee 

Student Union, University of TennesseeNew Building 
Submitted by: Ian Crone, Director
Campus type: Four-year, public
Full-time enrollment: 29,460
Project broke ground: March 2011
Project completed: 2019
Total area: 395,088 sq. ft.
Floors: 6
Project cost: $185 million
Funding source: Student fees
Architects: BarberMcMurry Architects – Knoxville, Tennessee; McCarty Holsaple McCarty Architects & Interior Designers – Knoxville, Tennessee

New Facilities 
Retail dining operation: 35,160 sq. ft.
Catering kitchen: 4,980 sq. ft.
Student engagement suite: 6,600 sq. ft.
Ballroom: 11,500 sq. ft.
Auditorium: 12,300 sq. ft.
Meeting/event spaces: 21,000 sq. ft.
Games room: 3,600 sq. ft.
Art gallery: 1,350 sq. ft. 

Student Union, University of Tennessee

You read it right, it was nine years in the making, but the new Tennessee Student Union is now where it all begins when an estimated 30,000 prospective students visit the campus each year. With a new undergraduate admissions welcome center and space for up to 150 visitors to begin tours at once, the $185 million student center has officially been recognized as the go-to starting point for any visit to the campus. 

Originally built in 1952, Phase 1 of the project was completed in 2015, but it wasn’t until the final phase wrapped up in 2019 that all the bells and whistles were in place. Those include a handblown glass sculpture, the Torchbearer, that hangs in the union atrium. It weighs two tons, is 30 feet tall, and contains 319 individual pieces of glass. 

Student Union, University of Tennessee

In its first year of operation the student union hosted over 5,500 events and saw an average of over 10,800 unique guests each day. Many important annual student and departmental events, such as the Chancellor’s Honors Banquet and the student-driven campus-wide spring concert, Volapalooza, have found a new home at the union. The new union also serves as a central location for the Division of Student Life Offices, including the Center for Leadership and Service, the Center for Student Engagement, the Office of the Dean of Students, the Office of Sorority and Fraternity Life, and the Student Government Association.  

An expanded bookstore and tech shop, a central catering kitchen, copy center, a contract U.S. Post Office and passport service, a new welcome area and information desk, student art gallery, a credit union and banking machines, and two restaurants were also opened in this soon-to-be LEED Silver certified space. 

“The student union is not just a building. We want this to be a place for people to come and hang out with friends. I see this space as a home away from home for students,” said student center director Ian Crone. “This space really serves as a crossroad between a student’s classes and their residence hall or off-campus housing.”

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