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One Brick, One Class at a Time

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Utah State University Eastern Chancellor Joe Peterson is seeing things.

And this isn’t just a recent phenomenon either. It’s been going on for quite some time now. Catch him glancing to his left when walking between the Reeves and the Student Center and you’ll see how it nearly trips him up.

The familiar open lot between the G.J. Reeves and the Geary Theatre is anything but empty to him. While students and community members see Frisbees flying across the open space, he sees ideas and knowledge being tossed around. He sees a space teeming with students in classrooms, students engaged in music, theater, art and communication. He even sees criminal justice students puzzling through simulated crime scenes meticulously replicated in their new state-of-the-art classroom.

It’s a beautiful and exciting space. A new gateway to campus. A new place for students, faculty and staff to interact in the mezzanines and other inviting gathering spaces between classes. He sees a new landmark for USU Eastern, a new symbol as welcoming as the open arm design of the amphitheater gracing its entryway.

And what pleases him most is that everything he sees will soon become more visibly apparent to everyone else as early as this summer when construction commences on the new $20 million multi-purpose teaching facility. It is a bright future spawned by the dreams of many and affirmed by the Utah State Legislature March 13 when it voted in favor of funding the new Central Instruction Building (CIB) for the Price Campus.

When philosopher Rene Descartes penned, “I think, therefore I am,” he nailed it. Never underestimate the power of an idea. Humans have the uncanny ability to transform one thing into another simply by thinking about it. It is what transforms the impalpable nature of thoughts into tangible results. We think, therefore it becomes.

But while thoughts may come easily, transforming them into reality can take years, decades, even lifetimes to bring about. In the case of the CIB, 15 years of toil and persistence, said Brad King, who nursed this dream along while working as vice chancellor of administration and advancement right up until retirement one year ago.

Now, as president of the USU Eastern Alumni Association, King joins other visionaries in helping to save the Geary Theatre. Funding the CIB was actually an essential first step in the process, since this new building will literally connect the two structures it sits between, the Reeves and Geary Theater. As part of the project, the Geary Theatre will be seismically stabilized and expanded.

It seems dreams and plans, like the people who spawn them, are often interconnected. The rising of one new building means the saving of another. But King points out that saving the Geary does not come without additional challenges. While the new construction project addresses the seismic safety of the grand old theater, it still needs close to $1 million to handle other building needs such as plumbing, electrical and fire safety upgrades.

But thanks, in part, to the rising of the CIB, the College can now begin addressing these other Geary Theatre capital campaign needs in a much timelier manner. These two buildings, as fitting partners, also demonstrate the linchpin role of the CIB in USU Eastern’s ongoing Building Vitality Campaign. The goal of the campaign is to partner with the community to enhance the College that will, in turn, allow USU Eastern to heighten economic opportunities for the region. Increasing the curb appeal of the 75-year-old campus is an essential component of the campaign, a component the CIB promises to help deliver.

Located at the entrance of the college, the CIB will span the curb along 400 North, occupying some 54,000-square-feet of space.  Its broad and expansive design with ample windows and lighting will serve as a beacon to students, community members and visitors alike.

Yes, the chancellor is seeing things, alright, and his vision and excitement for the new building and its importance to the continuing vitality of the college and region spills over when he describes to students and faculty what to expect in the coming months.

“Our architectural planning is complete, and we have hired a general contractor and construction manager,” he says. “During the summer, we will start seeing utilities work and construction staging, and during July, we will see foundations poured.”

His assuredness in the details attests to the hours he has pored over the plans over the past four years since becoming USU Eastern’s first chancellor. He took the helm in 2010, the same year the former College of Eastern Utah merged with Utah State University.

“When we come back to school next fall, we will see steel and walls starting to rise,” he says. “Before we leave for Christmas break, the building will be dried in (that is, it will have a roof and walls) and construction work will proceed on interior spaces during the cold months.  By fall term 2015, we will teach classes in our new building!”

Peterson says the college will continue to use the music building and the SAC — the old student activity center — until fall 2015. After that, those buildings will be demolished. A new grassy quad for the college will be planted where the SAC now stands.

“These changes will require us to be adaptive, but our ability to use the music building and SAC during the construction of the new building will save a lot of headaches,” he says.

Space planning is still underway for several programs that will need to be relocated. He assures faculty, staff and students impacted by this that they will be involved in the planning.

One of the most heartening aspects of the recent chain of events for Peterson is realizing that it is not just a building that the legislature approved, it is an affirmation of the College’s mission to prepare the people who will create and sustain the eastern and southeastern regions of Utah.

“This new building will be iconic, a venue of pride for students, faculty and the community,” he says. “It is a significant enhancement to our ability to fulfill our mission.”

When one thinks about how neurons of thoughts pulsing through a brain fires up syntaxes, sparking ideas, turning words into drawings that ultimately transform raw resources into gleaming buildings, one has to respect the power of a dream. The ability to see things before they are even there is a uniquely human trait, be it the potential of a vacant lot or the latent capacity of a prospective student. The College’s commitment to turning potential into success makes it a USU Eastern trait too.

“With a turn of a shovel, we will begin to see the hopes and plans of our best dreams transition into the brick and mortar of our finest reality,” Peterson says. “As we witness this space transition into a beautiful multi-purpose teaching facility, we celebrate the prospect of transforming lives for the better in the bright years ahead.”


Writer: John DeVilbiss,