State to Partner With City of Tuscaloosa to Enhance STEM Learning at Saban Center
Politicians, educators and Nick and Terry Saban gathered Wednesday to celebrate the state's partnership with them on the development of Tuscaloosa's Saban Center.
Alabama Governor Kay Ivey gave her annual State of the State address Tuesday, and in it, announced that her administration will work with Nick and Terry Saban and the City of Tuscaloosa to make the Saban Center a reality.
"The Saban Center, a partnership between the Saban family and the city of Tuscaloosa, will be an interactive and immersive STEM experience for young people from all over Alabama. And it won’t just be limited to STEM, it will help students become even more well-rounded, exposing them to the arts and very appropriately, sports sciences," Ivey said. "This evening, I am very proud to add the state to the team of partners making the Saban Center a reality. I believe this will be a learning center for many Alabamians for generations to come – and to that I’ll say, 'Roll Tide!'"
The Saban Center is expected to be developed at the site of the former Tuscaloosa News building, although the city has not yet said definitively if they will renovate the old newspaper headquarters or demolish the structure there and start from scratch.
The Sabans joined Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox, the Center's director Audrey Buck and education leaders to celebrate the new partnership with the building as their backdrop.
Tuscaloosa City Schools superintendent Mike Daria and state superintendent Eric Mackey said the Ivey sees workforce development opportunities at the Saban Center and will happily support its creation as part of a mission to fill hundreds of thousands of job openings in STEM fields in the years ahead.
"There are so many opportunities for our children, but many children -- and the folks in this room know especially children that grow up in poverty -- they don't know what opportunities are out there," Mackey said. "We've learned that one of the biggest barriers to children obtaining their potential is when they don't see hope for their own future."
“Our Mayor and our City Council determined that our children deserve an elite STEM education center, and that our Tuscaloosa Children’s Theatre deserves a home. Since they ignited this project, it has gone from a spark to a roaring conflagration,” Terry Saban said. “This support from the state will ensure that the Saban Center will make a lasting impact on education.”
Mayor Maddox said he did not want to step out in front of a pending announcement, but that the team has already surpassed its fundraising goals for the private investment needed to supplement the $55 million the city has committed to the project and "tens of millions" more expected to come from the state.
Maddox said he expects final designs for the Saban Center to be finished soon, and to then begin bidding the construction work out to area contractors. He said he believes the Saban Center can be open in 2026.
As is his norm, Nick Saban was brief in his comments but credited a good education and honest parenting for keeping him out of the coal mines in West Virginia, where he was raised.
"It's not much different from what we ask out football players to do, we challenge them to confront issues, to prepare for issues that are going to confront them, even though it's on the playing field, and those who are most prepared have the best chance to be successful," Coach Saban said. "It's no different with young people. When we can create opportunities for them to have a lifetime of learning, that's going to enhance their chances of being successful in the future."
For more on the development of the Saban Center and other projects in and around the region, stay connected to the Tuscaloosa Thread.