Cooperstown residents forced to relocate in June as UK plans demolition

Visiting scholar Yuanlin Qi and his daughter Ella pose in their home in Cooperstown apartments in Lexington, Ky., on Wednesday, March 20, 2013. Qi is a visiting scholar from Fujian, China studying medicine. His family is waiting on a answer to their appeal to stay within the UK community. Having to move would force his daughter to change from a school that she has gotten accustomed to. Photo by Michael Reaves | Staff

By Judah Taylor| @KyKernel 

jtaylor@kykernel.com

A cornerstone of graduate housing will be removed from campus this summer, leaving many residents with no quarter.

Originally built 66 years ago to be the home of veterans and their families following World War II, Cooperstown, the officer-style barracks turned dormitory, will be demolished to make way for more modern undergraduate housing.

The “decommissioning” of the seven-building complex off Woodland Avenue, which was home to doctor, lawyer and NFL great Jim Kovach in the ’70s, is part of UK’s master plan updates that includes plans to build up to 9,000 new beds for undergraduates over the next few years.

“Cooperstown has been good solid housing for a lot of students and families throughout the years, but I don’t think anyone would argue that it’s not badly outdated and not in line with what (UK) wants to offer students in the long term, in terms of residential housing,” UK spokesman Jay Blanton said.

In order to begin the construction of new buildings, UK has to demolish the old ones on site, meaning students who are living there now have to leave and find somewhere else to go.

UK is asking all residents to vacate Cooperstown by June 7, along with all graduate and non-degree seeking students who live in other graduate housing structures on campus, such as the Shawneetown and Greg Page complexes.

One such student being asked to leave is Lipiang Fu, a visiting scholar from southern China who has a few months left at UK before she goes back home. Fu is one of many students who is being asked to leave her current living arrangements, and is lost on where she will be living in the next few months.

“I came here to do research,” she said. “Not to worry about where I am going to live.”

Visiting Scholars like Fu stay at a foreign university for a 12-month year, not just an academic year, before heading back home.

“I go back to China in September,” she said. “I would like to stay where I am until then.”

Fu, along with many other students in a wide array of related housing predicaments, have submitted appeals to UK to be allowed to stay on campus, but won’t hear back until mid-April at the earliest. Without knowing if she will have to find her own place to live over the summer, or if UK will provide or help locate alternate housing, Fu is left in a nerve-wracking limbo.

“It is an unstable life here,” she said. “I feel great pressure for us because we are looking for a house.” Most apartments in Lexington lease for 12-month periods — too long for students like Fu to sign.

Being able to sympathize with UK’s position, Fu said that she just wanted to cooperate and get through the process with minimal inconveniences, but felt that she was being tossed out into a storm by herself, and had no idea how to weather it.

“The people here are very nice,” she said. “The teachers are very nice, but this new policy is very not nice.”

One option for visiting scholars like Fu may be to temporarily take residence in the vacant undergraduate dormitories over the summer.

But that might not work for some students such as those with families or different schedules.

Yuanlin Qi, a Visiting Scholar from Fujian, China, lives in Cooperstown with his wife and daughter.

He said that the most troubling part is his daughter’s education. She is in the third grade and could be forced to move schools again if they are forced to move off of campus. The Qis leave the country in December, again too short a time to sign a lease off campus, but too long a time to stay in Cooperstown.

There will be no guarantees on what the appeals committee will decide, according to Blanton and Ben Crutcher, UK’s assistant auxiliary vice president, which may leave the Qis and Fu between a rock and a hard place this summer.

“The process isn’t perfect,” said Blanton, adding that there will be bumps along the road to better on campus housing.

“There are challenges associated with this process,” Blanton said. “But I think it’s clear that (UK) is trying to do what’s best for the most people involved.”

For those residents who have to leave the complexes, and who do manage to sign a lease off campus, UK will write a check for $750 — an amount that is approximately equal to one month’s rent. UK is also looking into the possibility of renting out area apartments and then leasing them back to displaced students and scholars at the same price that they are currently paying to stay on campus, Blanton said.

Going beyond that, UK will offer surplus furniture to the new renters, for little or no cost once the legal issues have been sorted out. According to Blanton, every option is being explored to help students like Fu and families like the Qis make an easy transition between residencies, and that is partly why the process has begun this early and taking so long to complete.

Acknowledging that the process can be frustrating, Blanton said everything is being done to keep the transition as smooth as possible for students.

“It is completely understandable that there is anxiety and apprehension by someone being impacted by this transition,” he said.

“But to be able to move forward with revitalizing housing, which virtually everyone agrees needs to be done, we need to be able to decommission these outdated structures now.”

Not every resident is concerned with the demolition. Business management senior Colleen Fitzpatrick is going to graduate this semester and is happy that the buildings are going to be taken down.

“It’s so old, and it kind of smells funky,” she said of Cooperstown building G. “I’m actually going to take advantage of the fact that they’re tearing it down, and I’m going to stay in the apartment until June. Which is nice, because they usually make you leave in the same month,” she said.