The Rolla Transportation Development District (TDD) board has considered a project introduced by the Missouri University of Science and Technology that would realign University Drive to the south of where it currently sits as an addition to Highway 63 improvements with the Highway 72 extension. The proposed project would provide a formal entrance that runs through the university's campus.

The design outlined by assistant vice chancellor of facilities services at Missouri S&T, Ted Ruth, is an example of what would open up the channel for potential private-public partnerships with the university in future developments; specifically an opportunity for a collaboration with Phelps County Regional Medical Center (PCRMC), which ties into the missions of both the TDD and Sustainable Ozarks Partnership (SOP).


Locally both Ruth and Ed Clayton, CEO of PCRMC sit on the TDD, which is the governing board for Rolla’s transportation district. Both the city of Rolla and Phelps County have their own representatives that sit on the governing board.


“The taxing district has afforded us the ability to advance some projects that wouldn’t have come about if it wasn’t for that taxing district being established,” said Ruth. “And now that the TDD has been established, the projects are moving forward in the planning stage.”


The first proposed project that is currently under construction is the Highway 72 extension, and one of the features coming out of this project is a pedestrian bridge, which will be constructed across I-44 at exit 185.


The pedestrian bridge will extend over I-44, and will open up the potential development on the north side of I-44 for the university, said Ruth. The possible future development is an example of many projects underway in Phelps County that “enhance not only the university but the potential for economic growth with the enhancement for facilities that would assist the community,” said Ruth.


The new developments around Phelps County involve the partnerships the SOP are encouraging to support sustainable development. The efforts line up with the goals of Missouri Governor Mike Parson pertaining to the workforce and infrastructure he addressed to the SOP at their annual meeting. The meeting reported on the organization’s performance and objectives for the upcoming year.


One of the key objectives of the SOP for the year includes enhancing quality of life services for service members and their families and emerging opportunities to maximize available resources through savings or cost avoidance. Governor Parson explained how he advocated recruiting more training for the fort to President Donald Trump; a means to bring more business to the fort and ultimately more business for the community.


As a result, the four-county region that makes up the SOP could attain modern infrastructure, since a healthy community depends on infrastructure, noted the governor. Economic, demographic, fiscal and environmental health, all have the underlying need for modern, efficient and reliable infrastructure.


“This is how we accomplish building better communities, and better states. We roll up our sleeves, and we work hard in true partnerships to overcome challenges. This builds understanding, and makes a better place for all of us to live and work,” said the Missouri governor, at the SOP meeting; Enduring and Emerging Partnerships Focused on the Future.


The SOP is a nonprofit organization that focuses on the region of Phelps, Pulaski, Laclede and Texas counties directly surrounding Fort Leonard Wood. The nonprofit was created in 2012 as a catalyst for positive change for citizens, businesses, and governments throughout the area, as a result of the Initial Integrated Strategic Sustainability Plan (ISSP) to improve the quality of life and grow a diverse, sustainable economy.


The SOP’s vision is, “regional communities, citizens, governments and organizations, Fort Leonard Wood, and state and federal enablers working together as stakeholders to make the region an even better place to live, work and play, while enabling Fort Leonard Wood mission success and advocating Fort Leonard Wood mission sustainment and growth.”


Regional board members that include Phelps County influencers emphasized at the meeting the organization’s vision on the importance of the local communities, and how citizens, education, relationships with local and state governments combined with Fort Leonard Wood’s growth and intergovernmental support are integral in the advancement and improvement of the area.


The meeting brought together a number of leaders in the region, who addressed strategies in strengthening the areas relationships, economy and overall well-being, while also looking over past successes reflecting the importance of state, region and local community support moving forward.


One such leader who spoke at the meeting was newly appointed Fort Leonard Wood Garrison Commander, colonel Eric Towns, whose perspective and values gained through working with the Department of Defense as a young officer, and working with a number of military installations, was apparent when he expressed the importance of community partnerships with Fort Leonard Wood.


Before taking command of the local installation, Towns was Chief of the Requirements Determination Division at the Maneuver Support Center of Excellence, and when it came time for him to request a place of command, he immediately knew where he wanted to serve because of the progressive maneuvers of the fort in enhancing the local area.


“I have to say Fort Leonard Wood has the closest relationship with the community than any installation I served,” said Towns. “Over this last month and a half, I have to say you have welcomed me as your garrison commander, and I can certainly see that the community support has gotten stronger, and that has a lot to do with who is here today with SOP.”


The SOP’s focus on the future has brought about pioneering enterprises in the region other army installations could benefit by using as a model for effectively implementing intergovernmental support in partnerships with communities, said Towns.


He explained through the SOP’s work; Fort Leonard Wood was the first installation in the army to establish and finalize intergovernmental support with the city of Waynesville, which led to partnership agreements between St. Roberts, Waynesville and Fort Leonard Wood for the use of the commercial air service on the fort.


The intergovernmental support strategy was a new frontier for the army that highlights the SOP’s vision and goals for effective community engagement that strengthened both the local installation and the region, which currently has numerous intergovernmental support units in place that include the command and care for local animals.


The forward-looking actions also brought about Fort Leonard Wood winning the Department of the Army Community Partnership Award in 2017, and in 2019 “for the first time, we will ensure water resiliency and water redundancy on Fort Leonard Wood,” said Towns.


Sticking with the theme of enduring and emerging partnerships, first and foremost Towns views the possibility of cooperation with the state of Missouri Veterans Cemetery to help enhance the local post cemetery at Fort Leonard Wood as a vital pairing for the future.


“The second area of fertile ground that I think would bring our communities closer together is really a more interpersonal one,” said Towns, who continued the collaboration would center on strengthening the current relationships with the youth in the area, since Towns personally knows how paramount working with the local youth can be in their future success.


“What it doesn’t say in my bio is I grew up in a mobile home park in Southwest Louisiana, a child of a single mother, and without the education I received, without the community support without the military, I have no idea where I would be today, but I certainly wouldn’t be here today able to speak,” said Towns.


As a result, Towns is devoted to providing opportunities and tools for the local youth through partnering with the local schools and using high school internships as a prospect for community partnership. Community partnership is a priority for the SOP as the ISSP called for a regional organization to encourage and support sustainable development for the benefit of all within the region.


“These relationships not only lift up our youth but give unaffiliated youth who have no idea about the military the opportunity to see military life and to encourage them to serve the military as their profession ultimately,” said Towns.


The significance of local support was further addressed by the governor of Missouri, who had his start in the army at Fort Leonard Wood as a 19-year-old.  Parallel to Towns, governor Parson noted he “would not be here on the stage or the governor of the state of Missouri if it wasn’t for his military training at Fort Leonard Wood, since it instilled in him commitment and more importantly an understanding of the real meaning behind the “Pledge of Allegiance,” “The Star Spangled Banner,” and the long and illustrious history of the nation’s flag.


Missouri’s 57th governor commended the SOP for their dedication in strengthening the region and the installation and agreed that the youth of today, who will be the future of tomorrow, need the continuous support of the communities and government.


This involves the current establishment renewing focus on the workforce and infrastructure, which for the second time in six years; the American Society of Civil Engineers gave Missouri a grade of C- on its infrastructure report card.


Governor Parson explained at the meeting that the principal objectives of the SOP relate to his two priorities as governor:  improving the workforce and infrastructure because both are paramount to the region prospering into the future.


“If you want these communities and this fort to do well, the two initiatives I just mentioned to you are pertinent. We have to do something with the infrastructure in the state of Missouri, and I don’t know how to sugarcoat this to anyone in here, but it is going to cost something to get that done,” said Governor Parson.


As a result of cost pertaining to enhancing the workforce and infrastructure in Phelps County, Ruth explained, “Long are gone the days when we could go to the state and ask for capital money on new buildings because we want a new building.


“There has to be a need identified. Significant resources from the capital planning have dried up from the state level, so again, a lot more of what we have been doing over the past 10 years or so have been more self-funding internally or bond issues.


“Trying to operate within a means and by doing that with utilization becomes very important, and every space has a dollar amount associated with it, and we should be using that by being good stewards with that resource.”


The partnerships that are echoed by the TDD, the governor and the SOP, are instrumental in advancing improvements, and the SOP recognized at their meeting their achievement of working with cities on Office of Economic Adjustment grants to mitigate economic impact of previous personnel reductions at Fort Leonard Wood that promote the airport, improve the region and enhance job programs.


Job-related programs are currently critical to the projects Missouri S&T is envisioning, which will have a lasting impact on the community. Ruth explained, “We are envisioning how we can work together with the community towards a better means for this area."


Projects Missouri S&T Has Underway to Enhance the Area

The projects Ruth laid out include, the university looking at a variety of old buildings they own that require attention, so recently the university has been investing significant money in laboratories after discovering through a utilization study the fair amount of shortage in availability of labs for students.


As a result, the university is currently in the midst of a three-phase capital project for an interdisciplinary Biosciences Complex. In 2017, chemistry students and faculty relocated into research laboratories in the newly renovated second and third floors of the west wing of Schrenk Hall.


This multi-phase project will continue with the renovation of the ground and first floors of Schrenk’s west and ultimately with the replacement of the east wing.


“The completed project will help Missouri S&T attract high-potential students by elevating its ability to provide a premier educational and research experience in biological sciences, chemistry, and chemical and biochemical engineering—helping to prepare them for an increasingly competitive world.”


Completion is a strategic priority of the University of Missouri System’s Board of Curators that requires a combined investment of private gifts and university and state Funds, according to Ruth. And the university has set into course phase 2 and phase 2- A of the project, with an infusion of around $18 million into Schrenk Hall. Phase 2-A is a continuation of that.


“We had a phase 2 infusion of $18 million, phase 2-A was another $7.3 million, which is currently in construction now,” said Ruth. “It shows the advancement of our labs and the graduate school areas.”


Other projects the university is moving forward with construction on, which ties into the mission of the SOP for education and overall strengthening of the region, is an advanced construction materials lab in the civil engineering building on the north end of Pine Street.


This building will be a 16,000 sq. ft. addition to the civil engineering building in place, which will focus on advanced materials that include concrete and steel. The lab will allow the advancement of the center to use technology stored in one area instead of spread throughout the campus and has a cost of $6.5 million. Construction will begin in spring, according to Ruth.


The next addition Missouri S&T has on the table is the student design center that is slated for $2.9 million. “We had about 2.9 million of that money, but they decided they needed a little bit more, so they have to go back and raise another $800,000, but ultimately it is to double the student design space. We will go from about 7,000 sq. ft. to 14,000 sq. ft.,” said Ruth.


Another project currently under construction is the renovation of the university’s fitness center. The design includes expanding the current 7,000 sq. ft. fitness center by adding another 10,000 sq. ft. to the 10-year-old center because students were unhappy with the fitness center’s condition.


“Students came to us a couple of years ago because of the growth in population on campus, and demanded that we expand the center,” said Ruth.


Moving forward, one of the focuses of the university is on the library. “Students no longer need libraries on campus. They want more of a learning center, so one of our focuses for the last few years is what exactly that means,” said Ruth.


For the university, it boils down to providing an environment where students can visit and do more than just read, and do more than “just check out volumes of books.”


“It’s going to create an environment where they can come to do collaborative efforts and practice presentations, and they can do a lot of things to enhance what they are doing in the classroom,” explained Ruth. “And so with that, we decided on the renovation of our library, and we will start this renovation off in phases.”


The project has a $10 million price tag, and Missouri S&T currently has allotted $2 million infusions through five phases to accomplish the refurbishment of the library.


“Of course we can accomplish it quicker if we achieve the $10 million center. But that is really what we have slated now,” said Ruth. “There are not a lot of libraries in university settings that retain a lot of volumes of books unless they invest in compressed storage units. We have analyzed that, but it is just not feasible for us to do that. We feel like we can relocate them to a facility just off campus. Store them and retrieve them in a manner that would be sufficient for the users on campus.


The refurbishing of the space will start in the next few years, since a student of today is not the same student educated 15 years ago, according to Ruth, and the university is continuously looking at ways to improve upon that to fit the needs of the current and next generations of students.


Ruth concluded, “This obviously has something to do with where the TDD has been able to advance in some of the improvements they are planning.


“We just want to capitalize on that and move things forward that would be long-term solutions to help support this academic core and capital projects because we see the state as no longer really a future player in capital investment at the university, so we have to make up that somehow.”