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By Olivia Jones
Officials hope creating jobs, expanding student resources and improving game-watching experiences are right around the corner as legislation moves forward under what UK calls its Big Blue Nation United Project.
Kentucky House Bill 7, a bill that would allow UK to finance its own building projects, was approved unanimously without discussion Wednesday by the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee.
The bill, sponsored by committee chairman and state Rep. Rick Rand, D-Bedford, now goes to the full House and state Senate, according to a UK news release.
“We know the state has been operating under significant economic constraints in the wake of the Great Recession. As President (Eli) Capilouto often says, we have to earn our way,” UK spokesman Jay Blanton said. “That means we have to find innovative and creative ways to move forward.”
If passed, the bill would open the way for UK to spend $65 million to renovate and expand the Gatton College of Business and Economics; construct a $100 million new Science and Academic Building; and spend $110 million to upgrade concessions and facilities at Commonwealth Stadium and the Nutter Training Center. Instead of relying on state money, the projects would be funded through athletics, donations and budget trimming.
“Not one dime of state general fund money is being used for these projects,” Blanton said.
Construction would begin this year.
“UK is the university of the commonwealth. As representatives, we have the obligation — the duty — to ensure that it survives and thrives,” said state Rep. Kelly Flood, D-Lexington, who is also on the committee. “It’s the right thing to do.”
The project outlines changes to current classroom buildings as well as plans for new ones.
“The current Chemistry/Physics and Gatton College are the second and third most utilized classroom buildings,” Blanton said. “They don’t provide the kind of high-tech, high-touch learning space students of our quality and ambition need and want. These projects will dramatically change that.”
According to the BBNunited website, more than 300 construction jobs will be created over two years because of this project. Blanton emphasized that these jobs are in addition to the thousands being created both directly and indirectly by dorm construction already in progress on campus.
“It’s a jobs bill,” Flood said. “It literally put dozens and dozens of jobs into the community at a time when it greatly mattered.”
In addition to allowing self-financing at UK, the bill approves almost a dozen projects at five other Kentucky universities.
Flood said good leadership and solid political groundwork allowed the bill to pass easily and that many jobs have been and will be created in the process.