After a decade of financial prosperity, Liberty University is embarking on a quarter of a billion dollar makeover of its core academic campus.
Over the past year, Liberty has sold $220 million in bonds to finance the project. The proceeds of the first bond sale, which included $120 million of tax-free bonds, must be used in the construction of educational related facilities. The latest sale included $100 million of taxable bonds, which can be used at the university’s discretion.
The bond sales were rated AA by Standard and Poor’s and A1 by Moody’s, the two most prominent rating agencies.
“S&P rated Liberty among the 80 highest-rated and most financially secure universities nationwide. We are extremely proud that such a young university was rated so highly,” said Chancellor and President Jerry Falwell, Jr.
While Liberty’s campus makeover is expected to begin full bore this Spring, the reshaping of main campus actually began three years ago when a new campus bookstore was built.
That project was followed by renovations to the university’s outdoor track and soccer facilities and major additions to the Arthur L. Williams football stadium, which included a second deck on the home side of the field and a 110-foot-tall enclosed tower with VIP suites, conference rooms and press boxes.
Over the past year, the university has added a new Welcome Center adjacent to the football stadium. All new facilities are being based on a Jeffersonian architectural model, which was a favorite of the university’s founder, the Rev. Jerry Falwell.
“The goal is to ‘put our best foot forward’ and create the best possible first impression with every prospective student, their families and other visitors to campus,” Falwell said. “One of our slogans at Liberty over the years has been, ‘If it’s Christian, it should be better,’ and we want our visitors to experience that at the new front door of our campus.”
The crown jewel of this year’s construction projects will be the commencement of construction on the new $50 million Jerry Falwell Library, which will pay tribute to Liberty’s late founder.
“It will be so exciting to watch the transformation of this campus through to its completion. The 1970s-era metal buildings will be replaced with modern academic and residential structures of the highest quality,” said Charles Spence, Liberty’s Director of Planning and Construction.
Several years ago, the university decided to level off the growth of its residential enrollment at around 12,000 students. Online enrollment will continue to grow to nearly 80,000 students. Over the next few years, just the opposite will happen. Online enrollment will level off and, with the new improvements, residential enrollment will begin to move toward 20,000 students.
Construction is scheduled to begin on the new library on March 1. The new building will include state-of-the-art features, such as a robotic book retrieval and delivery system that will quietly bring the selected book to the student’s desk.
The new retrieval system will allow the library to store a collection of a half-million volumes in about 10 percent of the space used by traditional library stacks.
By reducing the amount of space devoted to book storage, the new library will have more space for quiet study, group study and learning labs. Dr. Carl Merat, Library Dean, and his staff have worked with a number of architects and consultants to design the new library.
Construction of the library will begin after a portion of the once essential Schilling Center is razed to clear the way for construction.
In planning for the library construction, university officials had to hurriedly decide what current offices and gyms located in the Schilling Center will be relocated.
“New gyms for Kinesiology classes are now under construction adjacent to the LaHaye Student Union and the Thomas Indoor Soccer Center at Green Hall,” Falwell said. “These gyms will serve as the replacement for the northern section of the Schilling Center when it is demolished to make way for new academic buildings in the next two years.”
In similar ways, the university will be continuously shuffling the deck when seeking accommodations for employees and students over the next several years.
As Liberty demolishes and replaces academic buildings over the next few years, some academic departments will have temporary homes.
Liberty has decided to purchase the old Thomas Road Baptist Church/Liberty Christian Academy campus on Thomas Road in Lynchburg to house certain departments temporarily.
Liberty University Baptist Theological Seminary and Liberty’s New Media Communications Center will be two of the first functions to move to the church campus, probably this spring.
The Center for Worship will share the Elmer L. Towns Religion Hall with the School of Religion temporarily and Towns Hall will become the permanent home of the Center for Worship when a new permanent, freestanding academic hall for the School of Religion and the Seminary will be built on a new spacious lawn near the Jerry Falwell Library in the next 18 months.
“All the moves and relocations will be a challenge but these growing pains will pay huge dividends over the long term,” Falwell said.
In another area of the campus, the university will build two new vehicular tunnels under the railroad tracks to Wards Road at Harvard Street. This will eliminate a dangerous at-grade vehicular crossing that leads on and off campus near Sonic. The University plans to build a fence to prohibit students from walking or driving across the railroad tracks.
Falwell said history tells us that Liberty will accomplish its campus makeover in a cost-efficient and time-efficient manner.
“Liberty’s construction team has repeatedly amazed other universities with the speed they are able to complete new projects,” Falwell said.
While the campus makeover may create temporary hassles for students and employees, Falwell said the need for construction is ultimately a gift from God.
“As our nation experiences difficult economic times, I think we need to reflect on how Liberty has been blessed,” he said.