ALABAMA STATE UNIVERSITY CREATES NEW INSTITUTION FROM THE INSIDE OUT
Montgomery Business Journal
by David Zaslawsky
Yet as significant as those changes are, and coupled with a conservative economic impact of $1.8 billion (three times the amount of spending), ASU is also undergoing a transformational change on the inside. That’s something that may have gone unnoticed because of the headline-stealing news of one new multi-million-dollar building after another.
Those changes started with “enhancing the quality of students,” as ASU President Williams H. Harris said, by modifying the admissions’ policies. The university last year launched a counseling program and is developing new programs such as robotics and orthotics. The latter refers to dealing with people who have severe injuries and special needs – what you see from soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The university is developing forensic sciences programs at both the undergraduate and master’s levels, and Harris said a goal is to double the number of doctoral programs. Currently there are three: physical therapy, educational leadership policy and law and microbiology.
Harris said the university “was founded and established mostly” as a university to prepare teachers. “We must continue to do that, but at the same time we must embrace the idea that we need to be involved in expanding the range of opportunities. We must embrace and learn new fields as they develop … We have to concentrate with degrees that focus on research. We have to focus on degrees that cause people to deal with new knowledge that we have not dealt with in the past.”
One key area of concentration is on entrepreneurship, which impacts not only students in the College of Business Administration, but students in other colleges as well. As Harris pointed out, a student majoring in physical therapy may end up owning their own business and need to learn entrepreneurial skills.
“We need to show folks that they can get an absolutely first-rate education at ASU,” Harris said. “We don’t have a theme, but need to ask people why leave home when you can do it more cheaply and as competitively as you can at some other place.
“In order to have first-rate programs you’ve got to have good facilities – people have to feel good about where they are. That goes from our student housing to our classrooms and laboratories. We need to be able to say to people the way you live and work at ASU is equivalent to the way you live and work at any other top-rated university in the country, and that’s our goal.”
To reach that goal, ASU is creating a town for 8,000-plus residents that happens to have a 30,000-seat football stadium. The undertaking is so massive that there are nine general contractors currently working on various projects. Harris probably needs a calculator to count the number of construction workers on campus.
“We are well over 5,700 students for this semester so the growth has begun for us, and we are absolutely certain that as the new facilities come on line and the new programs are in full development the growth is going to accelerate,” Harris said.
The goal for student enrollment is 8,000 and ASU “has a real interest” in attracting the region’s best and brightest, according to Harris.
Next year the students will have a library that is 50 percent larger than the older building, which was gutted. The $20 million renovation to the Levi Watkins Learning Center will add about 45,000 square feet, which includes an Internet café.
A massive two-story, 80,000-square-foot Student Services Center is being built in the exact middle of the campus. The $25 million, state-of-the-art facility, scheduled to open in January 2012, will “have almost everything a student could want,” Harris said. “You can pay your bills there; check on your financial aid, watch a movie; there are banquet rooms – it’s going to be a little palace when it comes on line.”
Other features include a cyber café, post office, bookstore, computer lab, food court and movie theater as well as suites for student government leaders and sororities and fraternities.
While the library is being torn down and rebuilt and Student Services Center is springing out of the ground, construction has also begun on a new $15 million suite-style student housing facility – two, 80,000-square-foot buildings that will hold 500 students. There will be three options for housing – single, two people and four people sharing a suite.
A big-time football complex is under construction that will include a balcony overlooking the football field. The $6 million project, which replaces temporary trailers that have been used for about 15 years, features coaches’ offices, team rooms, locker room, training room and an academic lab.
“It will be a world of difference,” Harris said about the new football complex. The enhanced quality is going to help us considerably in recruiting when we bring parents and students to the university. They are going to see a different place.”
Speaking of the football complex, Harris vows the university will build an on-campus football stadium that will seat around 30,000. It’s a promise. The funding isn’t there yet, but it will be, and there is a site, Harris said. The Hornets currently play their home games at Cramton Bowl.
“A stadium ought to be used more than six days a year,” he said. “I can see a stadium with a fantastic restaurant that would be easily accessible to all the people at Jackson Hospital and all the people in the surrounding area.”
On a much smaller scale, the university will have a new baseball park complete with press box, restrooms and concession stands.
There will a new women’s softball field, a soccer field plus a field for intramural sports.
On another side of the campus, the university is working on what Harris called a “historic district” that features restored homes of Nat King Cole and the Rev. Ralph Abernathy. The university was selected two years ago as the preferred site for the Montgomery Interpretative Center of the Selma-to-Montgomery march by the National Parks Service.
Harris hopes to hear an announcement soon and already has a site for the interpretative center – across the street from the homes of Cole and Abernathy, which are still being renovated. He said the university library has a treasure trove of civil rights memorabilia and archives.
Future phases in the transformation include additional student housing facilities, hotel/conference center and a role in developing the Oak Park area. “We want to build housing that interfaces with the community,” Harris said.
There will be new academic buildings and the need is greatest for the College of Business Administration and a classroom building for the College of Liberal Arts & Social Sciences, Harris said.
Of course, you cannot change the inside of the university and its buildings without redoing the gateways. “Gateways are extremely important to us as an indicator of our permanence; of our growth and development; and of our pride in whom and where we are,” Harris said.
“When we decided we were going to make this campus a destination place in Montgomery, we needed some way to make sure that we could have a demarcation. People needed to know that ASU is here. For years, when you came across the bridge at I-85 on Hall Street, you were on campus, but nobody knew it. You could go straight through ASU and never know that you had been on the campus.
“We decided we were going to … make it is clear this is ASU and we’re glad you’re here. We’re proud that we’re here so when you come through that gate you’re on the campus. We also had to insist that the gateways are both visually pleasant and something that people can be proud of. ”
All the new programs, buildings, gateways not to mention a parking deck, landscaping and a more pedestrian-friendly campus are all part of Vision 2020 and the university’s transformational plan.
“People who are business folks understand that when you spend hundreds of millions of dollars it has an impact on the community,” Harris said. “The investment that we’re making in the university is an investment in the community.
“What we’re saying to the people of Montgomery is that we live here; this university lives here; and we’re proud of being a part of Montgomery. Everybody who lives here ought to be proud having the university here.
“I told the mayor, ‘Todd (Strange), we need to keep in mind that Montgomery is a capital city and if we’re going to be a capital city, we ought to have everything at the very highest level of expectations.”
Alabama State University’s Transformation
New life sciences, forensics, health sciences and education buildings (complete); new dining hall (complete) new Student Services Center; renovate library; new football complex; baseball, softball soccer and intramural fields; parking projects.
New football stadium; cultural center with Nat King Museum; amphitheater; Acadome parking deck; residential village; work on east-west pedestrian mall; streetscape improvements
New student housing; new academic buildings
Multi-use residential/retail village; student apartments; parking area; new gateway
New hotel and conference center with a parking deck; student apartments
Source: ASU Today Magazine