Two years ago, Freed-Hardeman University President Joe Wiley promised, “The face of the university is about to change.” Students and faculty alike have been watching the transformation unfold for more than a year now, and the change, while not yet complete, is evident.
Bader Gym has been replaced with Bader Green. A clock tower has been erected at the south end of the oval. Granite stones with engraved scriptures now encircle a larger stone featuring the university’s brand promise: “Where faith and reason create Christian leaders.” Maroon and white banners with a redesigned bell tower logo hang from light posts. The area has become a gathering place for students looking for a place to relax, socialize and meet for devotionals.
"I love that the beauty of this campus is starting to radiate from the inside out,” Lanie Sewell, a senior marketing major from Memphis, said. “The cosmetic changes they're making on campus are starting to really reflect who we are as a university, and we're proud of that.”
“As a tour guide for prospective students, I can confirm that the renovations to the commons are a great plus for the campus. It creates a beautiful open space that serves as the center of campus. Looking back, Bader was a great part of our school’s history, but did create a closed-in feeling," said Richard Law, a senior from Columbia, Tennessee.
Prospective students and alumni have a new place for a photo stop. Bucy Tower, located in the commons, has become one of the most photographed places on campus. The walk-through structure has 5-foot lighted clocks on all four faces. The tower is capped with a shingle-stamped metal roof and finished with a 9-foot finial, bringing the total height to 82 feet.
A plaque inside describes various historic elements from Georgie Robertson Christian College that have been incorporated into the tower. Some of the original bricks, the bell, the front arch, the cornerstone and a plaque from the second-floor auditorium have been included in the new construction.
The tower is circled by another set of engraved granite stones. These include quotes from five men who served lengthy terms as president of Freed-Hardeman: A.G. Freed, N.B. Hardeman, H.A. Dixon, E. Claude Gardner and Milton Sewell. In large part because of the tower and the stones, the area has been named Heritage Commons.
“We were excited to see the changes on campus when we attended Makin’ Music 2015,” Aleshia Sokoloski, Montgomery, Ala., said. “The clock tower is beautiful and adds a nice new icon to the campus ‘skyline.’ I especially love how they chose to honor FHU's heritage with the quotes and the motto at the cornerstones of the clock tower. It's a great way to honor the foundations of FHU while celebrating what is to come. It made proud to be a small, tiny part of something so big.”
“We wanted this to be a place for students to learn a little of our history, to appreciate the sacrifices made by so many,” Dave Clouse, vice president of university advancement, said.
Gardner Center has received a face-lift, befitting its new status as the campus welcome center. Lobbies have been remodeled, the parking area has been re-configured, and a covered drive-through has been erected so visitors can be dropped off or picked up. Completed just this spring, a brick arch provides an entrance to the “face” of campus.
In what may be the most striking campus change, construction is well underway on the 29,000 square foot addition to the library. Funded by alumni John W. and Rosemary Koppel Brown of Kalamazoo, Michigan, it is being built in memory of FHU’s late librarian Hope Barber Shull. Executive Vice President Dwayne Wilson expects construction to be completed during the 2015 fall semester.
The project includes renovation of the existing Loden-Daniel Library, demolition of Lawhorn Library and construction of a three-story building connected to Loden-Daniel Library. The entire structure will be called the Hope Barber Shull Academic Resource Center.
“I really like the new look that is developing on campus. I feel like we are starting to compete with other universities in regards to appearance,” Chelsea Foster, a senior business major said. “I am most excited to see the final product of the new library in memory of Mrs. Hope. She was a very special lady and I am so thrilled a dream of hers is being realized.”
Library Director Wade Osburn believes the new facility will be the most popular place on campus for many years to come. “Not only will it have the research spaces, study spaces and meeting spaces, but it will also have the social/hangout spaces. That's what libraries, seemingly everywhere, are evolving into,” he said. This new approach to the library as a 'space' will require some adjusting on the part of both faculty and library staff, Osburn said. “There will certainly be pockets of quiet to be found, but the community space will be much more front and center. The cafe will definitely help with this community component. The comfortable seating options, literally everywhere you turn, will also help with this,” he continued. The library staff plans to promote 'new' programs that will be a good fit for this 'new' look starting in Spring 2016.
“This building will be much more than a book repository,” Wiley said. “Just as Hope dreamed, it will be a place for experiential learning and social activity.” It will feature a learning commons, a teaching and learning center, private study areas, an art gallery, training rooms, a multi-purpose room and a café.
C.J. Vires, provost and vice president for academics, said, “The academic experience and student life will intersect here. It will become the university contemporary version of a student union.”