By Maria Saporta
Wayne Clough, the 10th president of Georgia Tech, will always have a special place in the heart of the technology institute.
For starters, he is the first and only Georgia Tech president who also was an alumnus of the university. He was president for 14 years — from 1994 to 2008.
Then, on Monday, Erroll Davis, chancellor of the Board of Regents, declared Clough as Georgia Tech’s president emeritus.
And lastly, Clough’s legacy will be immortalized in bricks and mortar in the heart of Georgia Tech’s campus.
Dignitaries and friends attended the ceremonial groundbreaking Monday for the $85 million Clough Undergraduate Learning Center, a seven-story academic center that will feature and central glass atrium, innovative classroom spaces, science laboratories and student services.
“When you get titles like emeritus, you know you’re getting old,” joked Clough, who has not visibly aged since he left in March 2008 to become secretary of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.
Clough, who called it a “pleasure to be back on campus,” said he had spent two critical periods of his life at Georgia Tech — the first as a student and the second as its president. In both cases, Clough said he was lucky to have survived the first year.
When he became president, Clough said he knew from his own experience that students received a wonderful education, but “didn’t have a good time doing it.” So as president, Clough said one of his goals was to let the faculty and students know that they also could have fun while learning.
The groundbreaking event for the 230,000 square-foot building attracted several strong backers of Georgia Tech, including the Waffle House’s Joe Rogers, Invesco’s Charles Brady and Herky Harris, the Georgia Cancer Coalition’s Bill Todd, Tom Hall of the TUFF Foundation, Georgia Tech Foundation’s John Carter, Coca-Cola Enterprises’ John Brock and the Robert W. Woodruff Foundation’s Russ Hardin among others.
Bud Peterson, who succeeded Clough as Georgia Tech’s president, said the plan for learning center had begun about 12 years ago, when Clough was president.
“He knew that the rapid growth of the student body required the creation of a campus community invested in their success,” Peterson said. “The building is part of Dr. Clough’s vision and master plan for the campus.
During his tenure, Clough helped rebuild the campus by investing nearly $1 billion in the construction and renovation of about 25 buildings at Georgia Tech.
And although Clough had worked hard to try to get the learning center built, the money for the project didn’t all fall into place until after he left Georgia Tech.
Peterson said many people contributed to the project — most importantly the State of Georgia, which approved $60 million in bond financing for the building.
The largest private donor for the building wished to remain anonymous. But Peterson did thank “a visionary alumnus whose philanthropic vision and passion for collaborative undergraduate education has been with us from the start, and whose challenge grant continues to inspire additional donors.”
Another major contributor was the Woodruff Foundation, which gave $5 million.
Peterson named several other donors, including AT&T, Julian LeCraw, Michael Tennebaum, Philip Matos, Bill Poland, William Burgess, Gregory Dess, Kirk Landon, David McKenny, James Mozley, the Dobbs Foundation and the Tull Charitable Foundation.
And he said that just this week, alumnus Tem McElroy made a commitment to name all of the physics laboratories.
While on campus, Clough was treated a bit like a rock star with faculty and staff stopping to talk him and happy to see him back on campus.
Clough, who still has kept a home in Atlanta, plans to return once he retires from the Smithsonian. Peterson made it clear that he was welcome to visit campus as often as he pleased to see the Clough Undergraduate Learning Commons take shape.
The design team and facility programming team for the building, which should open by the fall of 2011, includes Perry Dean Rogers Architects with Houser Walker Architecture and Bohlin Cywinski Jackson.