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Tennessee governor celebrates with UT Martin community

Significant members of Tennessee's community filed onto The University of Tennessee at Martin's quadrangle Friday, Sept. 18, 2020, to celebrate the groundbreaking of the Latimer Engineering and Science Building.

University rendering of the Latimer Building (UTM)

The building is named after Bill Latimer, who serves as a member of the UT President's Council and is a former president of the UT Martin Development Committee. Latimer donated the $6.5 million needed to receive state funding for the $65 million project in 2016.

Latimer addressing the crowd

"West Tennessee does not have near as much money as Nashville, Knoxville, the Tri-City areas [...] so we just thought that this is something to do to help all of the young kids," Latimer said.

Tennessee Governor Bill Lee attended the groundbreaking and spoke on the importance of the private sector in relation to public universities.

Lee said everything in rural Tennessee effects all of Tennessee, so the groundbreaking was a worthy celebration, as it will create jobs for the state.

With that, he thanked the Latimers.

"It wouldn't have happened, except for you. This building wouldn't be going up except for you. The lives that are going to be changed in that facility and in this region wouldn't be changed except for you. A government can only do so much. A university can only do so much. It's the people who transform it."

Lee and Latimer believe STEM education benefit the future and will help pull people out of poverty.

"When we can educate young people -- or adults -- in this community on STEM education, what we're doing is creating a skilled workforce. That's attractive to businesses, that creates jobs and drives an economy in this region," Lee said.

UTM Chancellor Dr. Keith Carver was scheduled to be in attendance but has entered into quarantine after coming into contact with a positive case of COVID-19.

Officials estimate that the new building will generate $56.3 million in income and -- between construction and graduates -- will create 901 jobs.

Construction of the Latimer STEM building began in June 2019 after the demolition of the Communications Building on the southeast corner of campus. The new building will start to transform the existing quadrangle into a new one, according to university officials.

University officials say the building will be 120,000 square-feet and three stories tall. The building will be dedicated to the Latimer family, officials report.

A secondary quad will extend toward the Boling University Center, officials announced in an advisory board meeting in September 2019.

The building is expected to be finished for the Fall 2022 semester.

Friday's event was closed to the public.

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