The Rock, a beloved landmark and venue for student self-expression on the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, campus, will soon have a new home.
This summer, the Rock will be moved about 275 feet diagonally across the street, from its current location south of Volunteer Boulevard, near the intersection of Pat Head Summitt Street, to its new location, north of Volunteer Boulevard, near the intersection of Pat Head Summitt Street, near the Music Building. The move is necessary because construction of the new Student Health Center, set to begin this fall and take 18 months, will leave little space for the Rock, which students and others often paint multiple times per day.
“For generations, the Rock has been an unofficial message board for our campus,” Chancellor Jimmy G. Cheek said. “Over the years, tens of thousands of students and others have painted it with their messages — from proposals to birthday wishes, from rallying cries to protest notes. It’s a UT Knoxville icon. Knowing that, we’ve worked hard to come up with a plan that allows us to preserve tradition as we expand our campus facilities.”
Interim Vice Chancellor for Finance and Administration Jeff Maples said plans for the site have changed over time and the decision to put an expanded, 109,242-square-foot Student Health Center there won’t leave adequate space for the Rock. This move will be the landmark’s second confirmed move in campus history.
“We looked at several options, but finally concluded that moving the Rock was our only choice. We’ve chosen a new location that is an equally high-profile area,” Maples said. “The new location will enhance our plan to extend the pedestrian walkway, add green space and develop a gathering place for students in an ‘arts quad’ concept.”
Maples and Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Tim Rogers said student leaders were consulted about the plan.
Student Government Association President Laura Nishida said she is OK with the move because of the efforts to keep the Rock as close as possible to its current location.
“Like many other students, I’ve painted the Rock and I love the Rock,” she said. “I’m glad the administration realizes how important the Rock is to us and has come up with a plan that will allow us to keep the Rock and continue our tradition.”
“I hope students are supportive, come out to watch the move and turn the whole thing into a celebration of the Rock.”
2008-09 SGA President Jeff Wilcox toured the area with administrators last semester to find the best place to relocate the Rock.
“SGA has for years worked to keep the Rock where it is,” he said. “But with the construction of the new health center, we realized there was no option but to move it. Still, we wanted to find a place where people could have the same Rock experience.
“I think we succeeded. The new location has plenty of visibility for campus and game day traffic. It’s a change, yes, but yet it allows one of our greatest traditions to continue.”
Betsey Creekmore, associate vice chancellor for space and facilities, said the Rock was moved to its current location soon after it was discovered in 1966 on land approximately where the old Calvary Baptist Church stood — the area now known as Fiji Island.
A campus expansion was under way and “the A.B. Long Company was grading the area for the streets, roads and buildings that were planned. Workers discovered what had seemed to be a relatively small boulder was in fact a very large rock,” Creekmore said.
UT administrators Ed Boling and Joe Johnson took Long’s suggestion of keeping the rock rather than destroying it. A bulldozer was used to push the Rock to its current location.
Creekmore said she enlisted the help of Bill Dunne, professor of earth and planetary science and associate dean of the College of Engineering, to take a small sample of the Rock for analysis in December 2007.
Dunne’s analysis determined the Rock is Knox dolomite — a common type of local rock that is 500 million years old. Further, his analysis confirmed the move and indicated the Rock was turned when it was relocated because it’s sitting with its sediment layers running vertically rather than horizontally.
During the next few weeks, workers will be examining the Rock to determine the best way to move it. They’ll also be preparing a foundation for the Rock at the new site.
Maples said he hopes the actual move will take place during July.
“We need to move it during the summer while traffic is light on campus. However, we plan to announce the day and time so the campus community can watch,” he said.
In the event the Rock can’t be moved without being destroyed — or if the Rock, which is known to have a fissure, is damaged during transport — a new Rock will be erected, Maples said.
“While we hope the Rock can be moved without incident, we want to be ready if something unexpected does occur. We’ve made arrangements to get a ‘replacement rock’ if necessary. We will preserve this campus tradition.”
A celebration of the Rock is being planned for Aug. 18, during Welcome Week. More details will be announced as plans are finalized.
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