A LONG and Winding Road

Gov. Bill Haslam
Governor Bill Haslam

There are many people who deserve thanks and credit for MTSU’s new Science Building.

The MTSU Science Building project was first placed on the TBR Capital Outlay Priority List in 1998. For several years, the project sat atop that list. MTSU’s Master Plans identified the significant need for additional science space as far back as 1991. 

Much of the credit for at long last securing state dollars to build the facility belongs to Rutherford County’s legislative delegation. Sen. Jim Tracy chairs the STEM legislative caucus tasked with improving science, math, engineering, and technology education statewide. Sen. Bill Ketron is a member of the Senate Finance Committee. Together, with local representatives Mike Sparks, Rick Womick, Pat Marsh, and Joe Carr, the group’s synergy was key to the final push required to get funding approved. So was the effort of local mayors Ernest Burgess and Tommy Bragg, the strong push by TBR, and ongoing support from the local delegation, including current District 37 representative, Dawn White.

Ketron says that essential to the effort was gaining the support of people in positions of influence like House Speaker Beth Harwell and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey (both of whom are on the Building Commission), the state’s three constitutional officers and other key legislators including former House speaker Jimmy Naifeh, House finance committee chair Charles Sargent, House education committee chairs Richard Montgomery (current) and Harry Brooks (past), Senate finance committee chair Randy McNally, and Senate education chair Dolores Gresham.

“By the time we brought all those members down to campus and let them see the sorry state of disrepair on these buildings, things just came together,” Ketron says.

Getting them to campus was the handiwork of President Sidney A. McPhee and State Rep. Carr, who hatched a plan to invite lawmakers to attend a men’s basketball game in 2010 and to see the aging science facilities.

The trip was a turning point.

Bill Ketron

Sen. Bill Ketron ('76)
(R-Murfreesboro, District 13)

Mike Sparks 

Rep. Mike Sparks
(R-Smyrna, Distrcit 49)

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey
(R-Blountville, District 2)

Beth Harwell

House Speaker Beth Harwell
(R-Nashville, District 56)

Joe Carr

Rep. Joe Carr ('81)
(R-Lascassas, District 48) 

Pat Marsh

Rep. Pat Marsh
(R-Shelbyville, District 62) 

Jim Tracy

Sen. Jim Tracy
(R-Shelbyville, District 16) 

Dawn White

Rep. Dawn White ('98, '99, '02)
(R-Murfreesboro, District 37) 


“I made the comment while in one of the labs that I thought I had burned one of the tables in the room with some acid one day while I was enrolled there in the early ’70s,” Ketron says. “It was quite a revealing conversation for the people in attendance.”

The former dean of the College of Basic and Applied Sciences, Dr. Tom Cheatham, says that without Dr. McPhee’s persistent, determined will to make the new Science Building a reality, it wouldn’t have happened.

“He did a marvelous job of orchestrating all this and knowing which buttons to push and which not to push,” Cheatham says. “And John Hood [former lawmaker and head of MTSU’s Office for Government and Consumer Affairs], of course, is always giving him good advice in that respect.”

Sen. Tracy also credits the leadership and determination of Governor Bill Haslam for sealing the deal.

“The governor understood how important it was to middle Tennessee and Tennessee as a whole,” Tracy says. “Coming from a business background, he understood how important it was in the whole scheme of things to raise the level of science education.”

“This has been a long-awaited, long-overdue project,” said Carr, R-Lascassas. “This is the culmination of a perfect storm — a governor committed to higher education, a General Assembly ready to see this facility come online, and a University striving to ensure this project came to fruition.
It represents a great step forward in STEM education that the University and the Tennessee Board of Regents are expecting for the benefit of the entire state.”


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