The 33,000 square foot building, which blends seamlessly into the previously-built football complex on the corner of Samford Avenue and Donahue Drive, has already proven to be a popular gathering spot for Auburn's athletes.
Bobby Lowder, a 1964 Auburn graduate who heads Colonial Bank, Charlotte Lowder and The Lowder Family Foundation donated the $4.2 million to build the academic center. It is the single largest donation ever made to the Auburn athletic department. The Lowder Family Foundation is managed by Bobby Lowder's daughter, Catherine Lowder Struble and son Bryan Cotney.
The building was opened for use in November while some of the finishing touches were still being added. On Thursday it was officially dedicated with AU interim president Ed Richardson, AU board of trustees member Paul Spina, athletic director Jay Jacobs, senior associate athletics director for student athlete services Virgil Starks and others making speeches thanking the Lowder family for the gift that funded the project.
Since being opened for use, the building has been a heavily-used facility for athletes in all of AU's intercollegiate sports.
Senior football player Philip Yost was one of the speakers who thanked the donors for the facility and talked about its importance.
"Ever since I stepped on campus, Coach (Tommy) Tuberville and his staff have really emphasized to us the importance of academics," the kicker said. "He told us that first we are students and then athletes. He has continued to emphasize that during the five years I have been here.
"I have graduated and I am receiving my MBA now and it really is because of the constant hounding, I guess you could say, of the importance of academics in this athletic department. Sports can only last so long. Academics is going to have to carry you the rest of your life."
Starks praised the head coaches for creating "a academic culture in the athletic department." He also thanked the donors.
"The generosity of the Lowder family and the completion of this facility will enable Auburn student-athletes to carry out the mission of Auburn University," Starks said. "It will assist the development of our student-athletes both academically and in the community and give them a spring board so they can change the world."
The facility includes administrative offices for Starks and his staff of academic advisers, a 50-seat multi-function classroom, a 50-seat tiered classroom, an academic excellence recognition area, 40 four-person study rooms, four eight-person study rooms, a 25-station computer laboratory, a study lounge and a library resources lounge.
Yost had praise for the job being done by Starks and his staff. "I have always been given the opportunity to excel in whatever it is I want to do here," he said. The football player also noted it was a huge improvement from having academic advisers and student-athletes scattered across campus every day and evening looking for adequate space to run the academic program that had long since outgrown cramped quarters in Sewell Hall.
Soccer player Jada Stewart also addressed the crowd that included members of the university's board of trustees and officials from across campus. "In just a short period of time, this building has provided an environment for leadership," she said. "I would like to thank you so much for removing any issues for failure and providing us with every opportunity of success."
Richardson said that the opening of the center is very timely with the NCAA cracking down on colleges and individual programs with low graduation rates, which the AU president called "totally unacceptable in some of our colleges." He said he was pleased with how AU's athletic department is doing on the academic front and said he expects that to continue.
"Auburn is going to be a first class institution in every way," Richardson said, noting that the new academic center is a strong symbol of the university's efforts in that area.
Jacobs, a former football player who moved up through the administrative ranks to become athletic director earlier this year, said, "From the days of when I was a student-athlete, the Lowders' support has been outstanding. We are extremely appreciative of their unbelievable generosity in helping us address an immediate need.
"This facility will impact the future of all Auburn student-athletes and demonstrates the athletics department's commitment to academics. As a parent, I hope that one day my daughters have an opportunity to use a facility as impressive as this."
The new center is the working home of 40 full-time and part-time staffers who provide student-athlete support services to athletes in all of Auburn's intercollegiate sports teams. The group reports to the athletic director and the AU provost.