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Union groundbreaking signals new start

JACKSON, Tenn. (BP)—-“Today,” Union University President David S. Dockery said, “in what seems almost beyond comprehension — two weeks and three days after a tornado destroyed large portions of this campus — we gather together to give thanks to God for a new beginning and the opportunity to build again.”

Dockery, speaking at a chapel service prior to the Feb. 22 groundbreaking for a new student housing complex, noted, “We gather to not only continue to give thanks for God’s providence and all that He has done for us in the aftermath of Feb. 5,” when a tornado battered the campus, “but to set a course for the future of this university.”

“We move forward together by the help and the grace of God. It is impossible for it to happen in any other way,” Dockery said.

Union’s new student housing complex will consist of 14 buildings that will house more than 700 students when completed no later than the spring 2009 semester. Initial plans call for half of the facility to open by Sept. 1, providing plenty of campus housing for new students enrolling at Union in the fall.

The two-story residence buildings will replace the old Watters and Hurt complexes, which housed about 700 students and sustained heavy damage from the tornado that caused an estimated $40 million in damage to the Jackson, Tenn., campus. None of the buildings in those two complexes was salvageable and the entire complexes were demolished during the week of Feb. 11.

Dockery said Union’s circumstances reflected the biblical story of Nehemiah, who helped the Jews in Jerusalem rebuild the city’s walls.
“The walls were crumbled, and the people wept,” Dockery said “And our campus crumbled, and we wept.”

But God’s people came together, trusted the Lord to provide the resources, planned strategically and overcame disappointment, and completed the rebuilding project in 52 days -– one of the most amazing architectural feats of the ancient Near East, Dockery said.

“The people realized that the work had been done with the help of our God,” Dockery said. “And we embark today on a very aggressive plan to see at least portions of this new residence life facility completed by the fall of 2008, making it possible once again for us to experience a sense of community all over this campus.”

Following the chapel service, Union administrators, trustees, faculty, staff and students went to the site of the new complex for a groundbreaking ceremony.

“Even as we begin new dwelling places today, there is an ultimate dwelling place beyond this,” Dockery told the Union community.

The new student housing facilities will be located in the former location of the Watters and Hurt complexes.

The apartment-style rooms in the new housing complex, designed by TLM Associates, will feature four bedrooms, two bathrooms, a kitchenette and a washer/dryer in each suite. Each building in the complex will contain 40, 48 or 56 bedrooms. All bathrooms in the bottom-floor apartments will be reinforced to provide storm shelters for students.

“We’re going to do everything we can to make these buildings as safe and secure as possible,” Dockery said.

The complex ultimately will consist of four “quads” with four buildings in each quad. Initial plans call for the completion of two quads, plus three buildings in each of the two remaining quads. A men’s commons and a women’s commons building will complete each of the final two quads after the rest of the buildings are finished. All rooms will open to the inside of the quad, providing added security.

Total cost for the project is estimated to exceed $30 million. Site work by Dement Construction Company will begin Feb. 25, with actual construction scheduled to begin in early March.
Tim Ellsworth is director of news and media relations at Union University. Detailed images of Union University’s proposed plans for the new student housing complex are available at www.uu.edu/rebuilding.

    About the Author

  • Tim Ellsworth

    Tim Ellsworth is associate vice president for university communications at Union University in Jackson, Tenn. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists’ concerns nationally and globally.

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