A New Idea: Continuing Our Teacher Education HeritageNovember 02, 2004
Author: Renee Ballenger
Isn’t it a great feeling when the light bulb just comes on in your head with an idea that just makes sense and feels so right that you can’t help think, “it was meant to be.”
Steve Bennion, president of Southern Utah University, had such an epiphany in the twilight hours of one morning early last month. The destinies of two important facilities to the University had been heavy on his mind for some time. The thoughts swirling around in his head were peppered with facts like costs, countless meetings and pleas to governmental groups, and the basic needs of faculty and students.
And then, somehow the light bulb just flashed on. . .
The wheels of a logical argument began churning in his brain. If SUU was founded on a teaching program and the original venue for it was Old Main. . .And, if SUU remains today to be primarily a teaching University. . .And, if our prestigious Teacher Education program desperately needs new facilities to continue its cutting edge training. . .And, if Old Main, at 107-years-old, desperately needs refurbishing attention. . .And, if the monies for both projects just aren’t available. . .Why not dovetail the two projects into one for more efficiency and economy?
Last year, Old Main was vacated due to seismic safety and dysfunctional utilities. Three million dollars in Capital Improvement funding has been received to restore Old Main. However, 1.5-2 million additional dollars are needed to complete remodeling to the level this emotional icon of campus deserves, as well as that of the legacy of the founders. The state requires SUU to obtain this amount from private resources.
A new Teacher Education building has been SUU’s top Capital Development project for the last six years. Lobbying for the materialization of this new idea is already underway, and it will remain at the top of SUU’s agenda when it attends the legislature assembly beginning in January.
“Obviously, a huge task has been laid at our feet,” President Bennion states. “And, honestly, at this point, given the challenges of current economic times, we are unable to take on both projects in their previously-proposed forms, yet both are so very important and pivotal to the campus.”
Thus, the President’s idea to blend the two projects into one. And, aesthetically and emotionally, that image just seems perfect. Bennion explains, “To build a new Teacher Education building alongside the preservation of, quite literally, the old Teacher Education building, makes a lot of sense and makes a meaningful statement.”
One advantage is, it would place Teacher Education at the heart of the campus, as it has been at the heart of Institution since Day One, 1897. “The old and new edifices standing together would be a monumental reminder that Teacher Education has been and is central to SUU’s mission,” Bennion says.
Moreover, some significant economies and efficiencies would be realized. First, from the preliminary considerations for this new “blended” project, it looks as though the overall square footage of the original Teacher Education building plan would be reduced some 17,000 sq. ft., (by making use of the Old Main space), reducing overhead and maintenance costs by approximately $75,000 per year. Construction costs could be reduced by 1.5-2 million dollars. Also, the site originally planned for a Teacher Education building—at the parking lot area southeast of the P.E. Building—would be retained for future growth and needs. “I believe having this area remain flexible at this time is a prudent and proactive measure in preparing for the future,” Bennion says. “It’s a major penny in our pocket saved for the inevitable rainy day.”
Since that fall morning on which President Bennion had the “light bulb experience,” he has shared the idea with the SUU Board of Trustees, SUU’s Community Advisory Panel, and several individuals who are potential donors for the project. Most or all, the President reports, are excited about the potential benefits of the idea for the students, entire campus and community.
So, many who are anxious to get rolling on making Bennion’s vision a reality, are asking, “What’s the next step?” There are several; some to occur simultaneously, some that cannot happen before other criteria are first met.
One, substantial private funds must be raised. The SUU Advancement Office has already begun enacting a comprehensive campaign to solicit friends of the University to help build this bridge between post-1897 teachers and the educators-to-be of the 21st century. Incidentally, the amount of private funds that SUU supplies at the onset of the project does make a key influence on the decision-making of certain authoritative agencies.
Two, formal proposals are already being made to the State Building Board, and will be made to other decisive bodies like the Board of Regents, the Utah Legislature, the Division of Facilities and Construction Management (DFCM), among others.
Three, the programming phase of the project will take place. This is probably the most detail-laden part of the process, determining the most minute of details about the design, in light of intended purposes of each room.
Four, meticulous consultation must begin with architects and contractors to direct the design and manifestation of the structure. Right now, it is thought that the new framing be erected to the west of Old Main, and downhill.
“There is no question that this, at first timid idea that quietly entered my mind, is a major undertaking that will require creativity, finesse, and just plain hard work to get done,” President Bennion professes. “However, with the passion and commitment I’ve already seen from alumni, the community and leaders throughout the state, I’ve no doubt we can create something that is very, very good for this campus, and something that will become as much an emotional, priceless component of SUU as Old Main has been from the beginning.”
With that, President Bennion reveals that, after the light bulb, he found once again, the words of ol’ Will—as in William Shakespeare—to befit the moment: “What’s come to past is prologue. What is to come is in our hands.” (The Tempest, W. Shakespeare)
Certainly, there are numerous details to pan out that will take time. As they do, SUU will keep students, employees, community members, friends, and leaders throughout the state abreast of developments. Until then, President Bennion, will continue to work diligently to keep the light on.