UT gives sneak peek of new Min Kao Engineering building

6:55 PM, Jan 4, 2012   |    comments
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The media got a sneak peek at the University of Tennessee's newest and most high-profile building on Wednesday.

The Min H. Kao Building now houses the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, two majors which merged about five years ago, and sits on the corner of campus along Cumberland Avenue.

"For the College of Engineering, because this is our first new building in almost 50 years, and by that, I mean new academic building, it is great to be able to have a building that is built directly for the uses of the students and the faculty in the building," said Dr. Bill Dunne, associate dean for research and technology in the College of Engineering.

Dr. Dunne led a media tour through the new building on Wednesday.

The project began with the $12.5 million donation from UT alumnus Dr. Min Kao, the chairman and CEO of Garmin. His donation remains the largest single gift toward one building in campus history.

The state then chipped in another $25 million in funding, and the project began. Along the way, because of the stressed economy, leaders discovered they could also build an annex of classrooms for the building for the same $37.5 million pricetag. Construction began in the spring of 2007.


The completed structure is 150,000 square feet and has 19 research laboratories, 11 teaching labs and nine classrooms.

There also are dozens of offices for students, faculty and visitors. They're all located along the rim of the building, meaning most windows overlook the city.

One of the most visually stunning features of the building is the six-story atrium, capped off with a skylight and open-air plaza that overlooks World's Fair Park.

Adjacent to that is a student lounge.

The building is filled with windows for natural lighting, and the classrooms also are equipped with sensors, meaning the lights turn off and on only when there are people inside the classroom.

It's all part of the effort for LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, Silver certification.

The classrooms also have built-in power pads for student laptop computers. Many also have network plug-ins.

"If there is a department on the campus that cares about things to do with computers and networking and electricity, electrical engineering and computer science is that department, so the building really needs to reflect their needs and demands," Dr. Dunne said.

George Richardson, a fifth-year senior, is looking forward to taking classes in the building. 

"Guess I got lucky, snuck in on my last semester," he said. "When I started here, this was just, not really a field, but it was just grass and trees."

Richardson said, because of the growth in the department -- there have been around 450 new students in the past five years -- the students have gotten used to cramped spaces and old buildings.

"Some of the buildings we've been in, Estabrook, for example, really old, and so, it's nice to go from buildings like that, where we've been on top of each other in terms of space to a building like this where we have more space than we could ever need, and it's all new stuff," Richardson said. "Min Kao came here as a research student, not as an undergrad, so I think this building really is aimed at graduate-level research, but just having the facilities here helps undergrads as well because they have the opportunity to get hands-on with some of that equipment as well."

The building also houses CURENT, a center jointly funded by the Dept. of Energy and National Science Foundation. The research there is aimed at improving the nation's power grid.

"Everybody talks about new industry, new jobs, this department trains a lot of the people that are associated with making that possible, so to get them in a facility that really suits what they do is important," Dr. Dunne said. "If CURENT is successful, the national electrical grid of the country of the United States of America is going to function a lot better. It's going to be a lot more responsive, a lot more capable of bearing load and able to take in different energy sources."

A dedication ceremony featuring Min Kao and other dignitaries is scheduled for March.

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