Tennessee Tech clearing way for new $40M project [$]

Tennessee Tech is planning a new 160,000-square-foot fitness center at the corner of Willow and Seventh.
Tennessee Tech is planning a new 160,000-square-foot fitness center at the corner of Willow and Seventh.

COOKEVILLE – Tennessee Tech University is making way for a new $40 million fitness center – one that will be double the size of its current space with some first-on-campus features for students, faculty and alumni.

Demolition is already underway at the northeast corner of West Seventh and North Willow as officials clear a path for the 160,000-square-foot facility, which will stand twice as large as the current complex on Willow and 12th. Construction is proposed to begin in October 2016.

Tech students voted in 2013 to increase student fees to pay for project, which is expected to cost $40 million. David Mullinax, fitness center director, said the building being used now was built in 1991; the university’s population has grown considerably in the 24 years since, pushing it to capacity.

“We’re up from about 7,800 students to approximately 12,000 now; we’ve just outgrown it,” he said. “And with our intramural program growing by leaps and bounds, I think it could really be a recruiting tool for the university as well.”

While the new center will offer some familiar features – an indoor track, seven-lane lap pool, racquetball courts, weights and cardio – there’s also upgraded amenities, including a virtual golf room, outdoor climbing wall and plenty more gym space.

Mullinax said there will be four separate gyms, which can be combined into two with seating for about 800 spectators.

“That’s kind of a unique,” Mullinax said. “A lot of intramural complexes around the country don’t do that, but we have a lot of kids who like to come watch as well as participate, so we’ll have a facility that will be flexible.”

Students, by the way, had a hand in choosing the new facility’s features, Mullinax said, including an online survey early in the process in which they ranked their top priorities. In 2013, 52 percent of students OK’d a $100-a-semester increase in student fees to pay for the center’s construction.

“We have good support of the student body; they’ve been very complementary of the work we’ve done so far,” Mullinax said. “It’s moving right along.”

Not only will a new center give Tech’s intramurals room to breathe, it also plays nicely with continued efforts to transformation the North Willow Avenue corridor.

The City of Cookeville in recent years established a redevelopment area overlay (RAO) district there to incentivize redevelopment, and a number of projects have kick-started since. The new Tennessee Tech facility will sit at the heart of that particular district, which runs along Willow between West Broad and West Ninth.

Mullinax said Tech has “purchased pretty much all the property” needed at the corner of Seventh and Willow, which was considered the university’s preferred site, “except for a few that are still lingering.” The fitness center is expected to be complete in fall 2018.

“That’s basically going to be a gateway to the university,” Mullinax said. “It’s going to be the first facility you see, and it lets you know when you’re on our campus. That identification has not always been so easily seen.”