JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — East Tennessee State University leaders gathered Thursday where it all started 112 years ago, cutting the ribbon in front of the school’s oldest building, Gilbreath Hall, to celebrate a nearly $4 million renovation completed this summer.
“Today’s an exciting day in the life and the history of the university,” ETSU President Brian Noland said.
“On Oct. 10, 1911, here on the steps of this facility, our founding president Sidney Gilbreath gathered together with elected officials and education leaders from across the state and dedicated the institution.”
That dedication set a foundation, as what was then East Tennessee Normal School, with a mission to improve the quality of life for the people of Northeast Tennessee.
“Here we are on Founder’s Week in 2023 rededicating a facility that over the summer went through a top-to-bottom renovation,” Noland said. “New teaching facilities, new classrooms, new performance space, but a building that is the oldest building on campus has been brought to life.”
Noland said while Gilbreath doesn’t contain the entirety of a university that’s grown to more than 14,000 students from its humble beginnings, it still retains a jack-of-all-trades character.
“A lot of everything happens in this building,” he said. “It’s the home of the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, the Bud Frank Theatre is on the main floor. In fact, that theater was at that time the auditorium, and that’s where the original dedication ceremonies transpired.”
He said the state flag of Tennessee, designed by Johnson Citian Leroy Reeves, is believed to have flown for the first time outside the building.
“So this is a building steeped in ETSU history as well as Tennessee history.”
The renovation was completed ahead of schedule and under budget. As a testament to its varied uses, projects ranged from specialty flooring and other improvements for the theatre and dance studio and math lab and classroom space to foreign language classrooms, a psychology lab and women’s gender and sexuality studies.