HUNTINGTON — Students returning to Marshall University's campus for the fall semester will be stunned by some of the changes they see.
Over the summer, the university has been hard at work making big changes to the Memorial Student Center, including the food court and bookstore, along with making changes to dorms and even building new buildings.
But the changes are just the beginning of the university's plans to mold campus and update it as they move into the future.
At the last university board of governors meeting in June, the board approved a list of capital projects that would be sent to the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission, or HEPC. Described by President Jerome Gilbert as a wish list of sorts, the 79 projects on the list map out the university's dreams for the future, including more realized projects like the baseball stadium to broader projects like the demolition of dorm Holderby Hall.
"I would love to see Marshall as a bigger and more vibrant campus (in 10 to 15 years)," Gilbert said. "More students, perhaps more dormitory space, more research facilities, some programming - a major force in this region with a national reputation with an R1 research status."
The university spent the summer starting and finishing some big projects.
On the main campus, the biggest change is to the Memorial Student Center. When students return for the first day of classes Aug. 26, they will be able to eat in the brand new food court in the Memorial Student Center. The food court is now open to the lobby and generally has a more open feel.
New choices have students already excited, said student center general manager Tootie Carter. Chick-fil-A has expanded to full service, Steak 'n Shake has moved from a food truck to a permanent location and local favorite La Famiglia will serve fresh pizza from a kelly green wood-fire oven.
There are also new food options in the Twin Towers dining hall. The completely redesigned space features The Den by Denny's, Mein Bowl, which will prepare fresh sushi daily, and a new market, which replaces the campus store in Holderby with a more upscale experience. The Towers' dining hall now has a full wall of TVs and a gaming area, which will make it a fun space for students.
The approximately $4.9 million food court and dining hall changes were paid for by Sodexo.
The lobby of Towers West was also updated this summer, with new comfy furniture and new paint. Towers East's lobby was updated last summer.
Towers East wasn't left out of renovations, though. Two floors got updated bathrooms. Mistee Bibbee, director of the Department of Housing and Residence Life, said the plan is to close two to three floors each year to redo the bathrooms until they are all complete. Just the 15th floor will be closed this year for renovations, however, as they realized they needed the 14th floor.
The renovations to the Towers residence halls were about $415,200 and came from Housing and Residence Life's auxiliary budget.
What won't be ready for students quite yet is the Memorial Student Center lobby, which won't be complete until October. Crews have removed the stairs and are in the process of opening up the lobby floor so a new staircase can be installed. The staircase will go up and down, with hopes of getting more students to use the recreation and club space in the basement.
The entire renovation is to bring the student center from the 1970s, when it was built, to the 21st century, Gilbert said.
"I think students will love it," he said.
The $1.8 million project is paid for with the capital fee the university collects. Gilbert said he hopes to see a second phase within the next five to 10 years, which would renovate the rest of the building, like office spaces and all of the bathrooms.
"The student center is a bit of a wish list item, but not totally because we are about to launch a capital campaign to the public in October," Gilbert said. "One of the things we've put in there is some private money to help totally redo the student center. I've seen student centers get these remodels and look like a totally new building even though you use the skeleton of the building. You just build around it."
In Old Main, a new American Disabilities Act-compliant elevator is being installed thanks to $2 million from HEPC. The oldest building on campus also got a new roof, and some bricks were repaired.
The university also finished building two new buildings in the area of the medical school campus at Cabell Huntington Hospital. The School of Pharmacy's new building, named for late President Stephen J. Kopp, opened this month, and Fairfield Landing, an apartment complex for graduate-level students, saw students move in last week. Gilbert said Fairfield Landing is not full this year, but it's close and they are optimistic it will be a great recruiting tool for future students and it will fill up in the coming years, especially with the addition of the physician assistant program that begins in the fall of 2020. The building costs will be repaid through housing proceeds.
Being a scientist at heart and at-home composter, Gilbert was most excited for a new composting center the university is installing near Walmart on U.S. 60. While it comes at the tune of about $100,000, which is not a big investment, Gilbert said it will have big outcomes.
"We are going to compost all of the food waste and paper waste on campus at this composting facility," Gilbert said. "We will have a large drum composter, which is a big tank that we will feed in. It's a four-day cycle ... after four days it goes into the verma culture area that is a raised table about 6 feet wide, and we have worms in there. The worms will come up and finish the composting process. The clean compost will fall to the bottom and we will yield a couple hundred, maybe a thousand, pounds of compost a week that we will sell and also use around campus."
Gilbert said the goal is to also bring in waste from local restaurants as another way to generate some revenue. He said it will be the only compost facility at a university in the state.
The compost center should be up and running by the beginning of 2020.
Gilbert said he estimates the university has spent half a billion dollars in the past 10 to 15 years on a number of projects to improve the university, and they are constantly looking to the future to continue that progress.
Some of the HEPC "wish list" projects are closer to reality than others. The baseball stadium, for example, has seen movement, with the Huntington Municipal Development Authority deciding last week to sell the future site of the stadium - the Flint Group Pigments warehouse and parking lot properties - to Marshall.
A new College of Business building is also closer than other projects and is the first project on the list. The $40 million building will be located on 4th Avenue and 15th Street, the former site of the club Bar Code, which burned down in 2012 and is now a parking lot. Alumnus Brad Smith, former CEO of Intuit, has already donated $25 million toward the project and the university is working on raising the rest of the funds.
"We are thinking we will do a private-public partnership like we did the pharmacy school, where we will finance the additional costs of the building through some other projects," Gilbert said.
One project they are considering would be in the building along 4th Avenue and Hal Greer Boulevard that currently houses Husson's Pizza and a barbershop. Gilbert said he would like it to be open to developers and generate some revenue, such as a restaurant or retail. The university is also considering opening Greek housing on campus and using revenue from that toward the new COB building.
Other than some classroom renovations and technology upgrades, the rest of the items on the list are less certain.
Coming in at No. 4 on the wish list is an "innovation and discovery complex," which would house the university's growing research projects.
"We are growing the research program and just got up to $38 million in research," Gilbert said. "We've announced some new (National Institutes of Health) grants, which pushes our reputation forward, and having more researchers involved in research is creating the need for more laboratory space. We know as we move forward we will need more space."
Gilbert said they hope to get some state or grant funding to help expand the research facilities. The goal is $20 million for a new building.
No. 5 on the list is a substance abuse and recovery center, which would ideally be close to the medical campus. It's estimated to cost $19 million.
"We want Marshall to be a world-class center for recovery solutions," Gilbert said. "We do believe we've made tremendous progress in that regard, and we'd like to be able to move all of our researchers and health science people working in that area into a single complex."
Thanks to a booming intramural scene at Marshall, the university also plans to renovate a field at the A.D. Lewis Community Center, which can be used by the center but will also be used for additional intramural space.
Brandi Jacobs-Jones, senior vice president for operations at the university, said since lights were installed at the Rec field by the freshman dorms, the field is used from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. It is also used as the band's practice space, so it is in need of some repairs. She said a second field is needed and would mean intramurals could also offer more sports.
The rest of the list encompasses a variety of ideas, from updates to all the buildings on campus to demolishing buildings like Holderby Hall to updates in the athletic facilities, including an indoor track and Cam Henderson Center air conditioning. Some of the projects will need funding streams and others need more thought.
Gilbert said Holderby Hall, for example, is one project he isn't anxious about completing. One of the older residence halls on campus and without air conditioning, it's been on the chopping block for a while, but Gilbert said he doesn't want to tear the building down without a plan in place to replace it. The building won't be housing any students this year, though, as the university mulls over what to do with the space.
The list does not include the School of Aviation, which will be built at the South Charleston campus, with facilities also at Yeager Airport.
Gilbert said a growing university is a strong university, and Marshall is committed to ensuring Huntington remains a vibrant community.
Follow reporter Taylor Stuck on Twitter and Facebook @TaylorStuckHD.