Legislature approves plans for science building, stadium to be funded by UK Athletics

The Chemistry-Physics building at the University of Kentucky. Photo by Adam Chaffins | Staff

By Amelia Orwick

aorwick@kykernel.com

Gov. Steve Beshear and other legislative leaders announced their support Thursday for the upgrade of three UK facilities, to be funded primarily by UK Athletics.

The Kentucky General Assembly must approve the project, being dubbed Big Blue Nation United, which will construct a new academic science building and renovate and expand both Commonwealth Stadium and the Gatton College of Business and Economics.

The science building will be built where Donovan Hall stands now.

Though the new science building will likely be used instead of the Chemistry-Physics Building for most scientific purposes, there are no solid plans to tear the old building down, UK spokesman Jay Blanton said.

Typically, academic buildings are paid for using the state’s General Fund money. In this instance, UK will depend on private donations and UK Athletics to finance the project, which will cost more than $300 million.

“We’re very fortunate that we have an athletic program that is self-sustaining,” Blanton said. “We’re one of only a handful of programs in the country that has that kind of capacity.”

UK also will rely on agency bonds, which are to be paid back over time with the revenue generated from the projects.

“This is an example of our institution working in an innovative and creative way, and working with donors and others to help move the university forward,” Blanton said.

According to Dan Fulks, a former UK professor who now teaches at Transylvania University, few athletic programs actually turn over a profit each year, but it is not uncommon for those that do to give back to the university.

“This is not totally unique,” Fulks said of UK’s announcement that its athletic program would largely contribute to the Big Blue Nation United project. “It’s unique in that not a lot of athletic programs can afford to.”

In fact, UK Athletics also helped pay off bonds in the construction of the W.T. Young Library.

With the hiring of head football coach Mark Stoops, a new television contract for the SEC and renovations to be made to Commonwealth Stadium, the UK football program is expected to rake in even greater profits.

Aside from the football team, UK Athletics also benefits from a stellar basketball program, something that not many universities can boast.

“This is very positive. Big-time college athletics are getting lots of bad press — not just UK — for the amount of money that people think we’re spending,” said Fulks, who is also a research consultant for the NCAA. “Anytime that you read a story about athletics giving back to the university, that’s great news.”

UK also is in the middle of making improvements to student housing and updating its master plan.

“Those plans are separate in terms of funding and planning, but (UK President Eli) Capilouto, staff leaders and the Board have been talking and planning for some time for these kind of investments involving the infrastructure of campus,” Blanton said.

Because of the increased level of construction that will be taking place in coming years, planners must consider issues that will arise, such as parking and accessibility.

Other university projects were announced Thursday, including renovations at Morehead State, Murray State, Northern Kentucky, Western Kentucky and Louisville.

“It was a good and important step for all of the university presidents to work together to achieve a goal,” said Western Kentucky University President Gary Ransdell.

Administrators across the state recognize the importance of maintaining top-notch facilities to attract the best students, staff and faculty.

“The goal is to put students first in everything we do,” Blanton said. “This is a vital need and we’re fortunate that (athletic director Mitch) Barnhart, Capilouto and donors are stepping up to try and meet this need.”