OREM — One of the lowest moments of Utah Valley University President Matthew Holland's academic life came during the most recent legislative session when he learned that a new classroom building, a high priority for UVU, was only ranked 12th on a construction wish list for lawmakers.
"I lost sleep, I lost hair, I may have lost children," he said. "I don't know what happened in a 24-hour cycle there."
Holland said he and his staff had worked hard to present their case to lawmakers of the need for the building. But during a meeting with House Speaker Becky Lockhart, the Provo Republican told him that approval from the Legislature was not going to happen.
"I couldn't believe she was folding," he said. "She could only hold that for about 10 seconds and then started to laugh and then my aneurysm stopped on the spot."
The joke was on him. The Legislature ultimately approved construction of the $54 million classroom facility, which broke ground Friday during a ceremony at UVU. The new building, designed to house 34 classrooms, a 1,000-seat auditorium, study areas and faculty offices, is scheduled for completion by December 2014 and will be located just north of the UVU library.
"The Legislature actually can be quite boring if you don't try a few of those little tricks on your friends and colleagues now and again," Lockhart said. "That was really fun to see the look on his face."
Enrollment at UVU has been increasing for several years and has risen by more than 15 percent since the school gained university status in 2008, according to figures provided by UVU spokesman Mike Rigert. Enrollment peaked in fall of 2011 with 33,395 students, which at the time made UVU the largest school in the state in terms of total headcount, before new admissions policies caused the headcount to drop to 31,556 in fall 2012.
Those policies, as well as an increased number of online and hybrid courses, were designed in part to address the swelling student body, which placed classroom space at a premium.
"It's beyond important," Holland said of UVU's new classroom building. "It was absolutely essential. It was imperative for the carrying out of our mission here."
Holland said most people assume UVU's growth is a result of its location in northern Utah County, which has experienced a boon in commercial and residential development. But he said the surge in students is more attributable to changes within the university than without.
"Our single biggest driver of growth right now are junior and senior students who are not transferring, who are staying to complete degrees" he said. "This is a sea change in what this institution has been able to accomplish for this valley and for this state."
Jono Andrews, UVU's student body president, said the 1,000-seat auditorium would provide a venue for invited speakers and the hallways connecting the building to other parts of campus would benefit students who attend classes in shorts and sandals in the dead of winter.
"UVU has a space problem. It's as if we are tearing at the seems as a university," he said. "Space is at a high demand on this campus and this building will help us achieve a solution to this problem."
David Connelly, president of the UVU Faculty Senate, said he hopes the classroom building will contribute to the legacy of the university. He said he remembers certain locations from his own education where he learned new concepts and ideas and expects UVU's new building to do the same for future generations of students.
"Let us hope, as future students drive by, that it reminds someone of the day they 'got it' or even better, that they might bring their own child and share with them the wonder of learning and what it has done for them," he said.