When the University of Nebraska-Lincoln joined the Big Ten Conference in 2011, its College of Engineering was admitted into what it called "the single-best collection of colleges of engineering in the world."

Alongside the University of Illinois, the University of Michigan, Purdue University and others, Nebraska Engineering found itself grouped with schools rivaling MIT, Carnegie Mellon and Stanford in the Big Ten Plus Engineering Consortium.

Nearly all the engineering schools in the consortium are ranked among the best in the country by U.S. News & World Report, and most are larger than UNL's in enrollment, faculty and research spending.

In a program statement that will go before the NU Board of Regents on Aug. 3, UNL's Facilities Planning and Management team wrote the College of Engineering "endeavors to become a top fifty college within ten years."

College leaders declined an interview request Friday afternoon to discuss specifics of the plan.

But according to the program statement, leaders envision $75.4 million in new construction and renovations to the Engineering College's hulking facility sandwiched between 16th and 17th streets on UNL's City Campus as a significant step in catching up to the competition.

The biggest part of the project would include tearing down the 25,000-square-foot link built in 1984 between Nebraska Hall and the Scott Engineering Center, the university said in the 19-page document.

A new 87,000-square-foot building would be constructed in its place beginning next year — if approved by regents — with plans to open in 2022.

The new building would add general research lab space, specialized research space, instructional laboratories and a more prominent entry to the college on the west side.

Funded through $70 million in state and university funds, as well as $5.4 million in private donations, the project also includes renovations to the Scott Engineering Center and Nebraska Hall.

Expanded laboratory space in the Scott Engineering Center, both for instruction as well as research, would give students opportunities to learn in a modern space capable of being reconfigured and supporting interdisciplinary efforts, the program statement says.

Inside the massive Nebraska Hall, the former Elgin National Watch Co. factory built in 1931 on two city blocks, renovations would include installation of fire sprinklers, upgrades to elevators and items to address other code violations while also improving ADA compliance.

The entire Nebraska Engineering project is one of nine priority projects targeted by university leaders for a special deferred maintenance program passed by the Legislature in 2016.

To pay for the projects, the state and university will each set aside $11 million annually over a dozen years to pay back bonds used to cover the cost of construction and renovation to facilities such as Mabel Lee Hall at UNL; Wittson Hall and the Williams Science Hall College of Pharmacy at UNMC; the Strauss Performing Arts Center and the Arts and Sciences Hall at the University of Nebraska at Omaha; and the replacement of the Otto C. Olsen Building with a new STEM education building at Nebraska-Kearney.

Tuition money will be used to fund part of NU's $11 million annual contribution to the deferred maintenance fund, a university spokeswoman said, but no separate tuition increase is expected.

Nebraska Engineering includes programs housed in Othmer Hall, Avery Hall and South Stadium on City Campus, Chase Hall on East Campus and the Peter Kiewit Institute and Scott Technology Center at UNO.

In improving the central College of Engineering facility, UNL hopes to continue growing and to better meet the needs of Lincoln, Omaha and the state in educating and preparing future engineers for the workforce.

Nebraska Engineering has experienced 11 straight years of record student growth, including 3,614 students enrolled in engineering courses at the beginning of the 2017-18 school year. A decade earlier, the college's enrollment stood at 2,900.

Once the project is completed in 2022, UNL said it could accommodate growth up to 5,000 undergraduate and 1,200 graduate students.

"To achieve this, the college must expand its undergraduate and graduate programs and its research enterprise, all of which require improved and additional space to current facilities," the program statement says.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7120 or cdunker@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @ChrisDunkerLJS.


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