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Change is in the air at Fort Hays State

Most new faculty, new staff and incoming freshmen have made a visit to Fort Hays State University at least once before they arrive for their first day of work or their first class. Sometimes, though, for a variety of unusual reasons, a new employee or a new student might be seeing the campus for the first time. Understandably, everything is new and unfamiliar to them.

With so many changes taking place this year, I would venture to guess even some seasoned FHSU veterans might turn a corner somewhere on campus this fall and wonder for a moment where they are.

A glance toward the western horizon might be a case in point. High on the Fort Hays Escarpment, 3-plus miles away, stand two 400-foot-high wind turbines. At that distance, they hardly tower over the campus, and yet they are large enough to serve as easily recognized landmarks.

We have been working on this project for six years, and we never gave up because we knew it was the right thing to do. We are projecting annual savings on our energy bill from the wind turbines will be in the range of $600,000 to $1 million.

The cost of the project is somewhere between $8.8 million and $9 million. It includes everything necessary to deliver electricity from the turbines to the campus.

Construction is nearly complete. Two back-ordered transformers should arrive by early September, and we expect the system to be operational a week or two after that. We soon will be announcing a ceremony to commemorate this historic accomplishment.

Of perhaps more immediate interest to our students is the grand opening of another residence hall. Named in honor of the late Jack Heather, who founded the radio and television program at FHSU and contributed in countless ways to the success of many of our graduates, it will be home to 107 students.

Heather Hall is the second phase of a project to replace the former Agnew Hall, which was razed in the summer of 2010 because of its deteriorating condition and outdated layout. The replacement Agnew Hall, adjacent to the new Heather Hall, opened last fall with 123 beds.

There are other new and evolving changes that will benefit our students.

Several classrooms either are being reconditioned or reconfigured. Cosmetic improvements are underway in a painting lab and a drawing lab in Rarick Hall. Also, risers are being removed and reconstruction is underway in two classrooms in Tomanek Hall to allow greater freedom of movement for students, which is more conducive to a modern learning environment.

Many of our students also are taking advantage of an academic-lifestyle program that is almost new and definitely expanding. A learning community is a group of 20 to 30 first-year students who share some common interests, take classes together, live on the same floor of a residence hall and participate in activities together throughout the year. We launched our first learning community in 2010, expanded to three in 2011 and expanded to six in 2012. Because the learning communities have been such a success, we are expanding to  nine unique choices beginning this fall. The focus of these learning communities ranges from wellness and global justice to world travel and psychology.

The changes this fall also include some jaw-dropping additions to the campus.

The Schmidt-Bickle Indoor Training Facility, a 50,400-square-foot building on the site of the former practice field between Lewis Field Stadium and Big Creek, will serve as an indoor practice venue for multiple Tiger sports teams. Athletes who represent Fort Hays State University in football, men's and women's track, baseball, softball, men's and women's golf, and men's and women's soccer now have a first-class place to practice regardless of outside weather conditions.

The Schmidt-Bickle Indoor Training Facility will give our athletes a competitive edge in their games and matches, and our coaches are excited about the competitive advantage this magnificent facility will give them in recruiting top athletes.

Numerous alumni and other campus visitors have told me how startled they were to see this edifice rising unexpectedly from the ground during construction.

Another major project is just starting. Construction has begun on the Center for Networked Learning, which will straddle an old section of Big Creek along Dwight Drive, which was extended a year ago from where it dead-ended on the west at the Wooster Place housing complex to curve northwest around the levee along Big Creek and connect with Gustad Drive.

When completed in June 2014 by Paul-Wertenberger Construction Inc. of Hays, the $10-million, 37,150-square-foot Center for Networked Learning will house the Virtual College, the Center for Teaching Excellence and Learning Technology, the Department of Informatics, the radio and TV studios, and laboratories for FHSU's new information systems engineering program.

I welcome you to visit the FHSU campus and see how things are changing and improving. But don't blink. You might miss something.

Fort Hays State University President Edward H. Hammond is starting his 27th year.