Trustees approve new North Campus dorms, design stage for Student Center

By Rachel Aretakis and Becca Clemons

The UK Board of Trustees on Friday approved plans for two additional dorms on North Campus that would open in fall 2016, and for the design phase of a Student Center renovation to move forward.

The new residence halls will be built where Boyd, Jewell, Holmes and Keeneland halls stand at South Limestone and Avenue of Champions. The $83.9 million project is the next step in UK’s housing development plans over the next five to seven years. This phase, to be completed in fall 2016, provides 1,141 of the 9,000 total planned beds. Trustees also approved names for the halls: Limestone Park I and II.

With this approval, UK has entered into leases for 5,733 new beds to date with Education Realty Trust, a Memphis, Tenn.-based real estate company that is funding and building the dorms. The company completed Central I and II last year, and eight other dorms are under construction.

News that the plan included demolishing Holmes and Jewell halls, as well as Hamilton House next to Keeneland Hall, spurred a response from the Blue Grass Trust for Historic Preservation, a nonprofit that works to preserve historic buildings in Central Kentucky.

“To choose a legacy of demolition is a sad, curious path for administrators of higher education,” said Sheila Omer Ferrell, the organization’s executive director, in an email to the Kernel.

The organization had urged President Eli Capilouto to reconsider demolishing the two halls and house, which were listed among the 11 structures on the organization’s 2013 endangered list. The list also includes the Kirwan and Blanding Towers, and Patterson and Donovan halls.

Ferrell sent a letter to the president on Thursday encouraging the university to “better incorporate its historically and architecturally important resources into its master plan as a way to visibly utilize its unique heritage to the benefit of the campus and the city of Lexington.”

After news of the decision on Friday, Ferrell said in an email to the Kernel the organization is “deeply disappointed by today’s decision.”

She said it could take about 65 years for a new energy-efficient building to save the amount of energy that is lost in demolishing an existing building.

“In human terms, an 18-year old incoming freshman at UK will be 83
years of age when the predicted energy off-set occurs from today’s tragic
vote to demolish five historic properties.

“The historic architectural loss can never be recovered,” Ferrell said.

Holmes, Boyd and Jewell halls are named after prominent women in the university’s history. Holmes and Jewell were named after former deans of women, Sarah B. Holmes and Mary Frances Jewell McVey. Boyd was named for Cleona Bell Matthews Boyd, the wife of a College of Arts and Sciences dean.

“We must do better, and we will do better, at bringing the stories of these women to life,” Capilouto said, citing intent to represent their legacies despite the razing of their namesake buildings.

All but two of the trustees approved the residence hall plan. Irina Voro, a faculty representative, and Bill Gatton both abstained.

“I can’t in all honesty be for it, but I don’t want vote against it,” Gatton said. He was concerned about the prices of beds for students half a century from now. The news dorms’ lease lasts for 75 years.

Trustee David Hawpe said Capilouto has taken an “eloquent and positive approach” to residence hall construction on campus, but also recognized concerns about the historic nature of Holmes and Jewell halls.

“I think the Blue Grass Trust serves a great purpose,” Hawpe said. But he was not convinced that the historical significance or the fact that the architect, Ernst Johnson, was well known should outweigh the need to revitalize campus buildings.

Though the university will have to make sacrifices, trustee Frank Shoop said that adding more beds is a top priority for students.

“It’s going to encourage many students, I believe, to come to this university,” Shoop said.

“It will help this university in generations to come.”

The trustees also approved a $17 million design phase for a Student Center renovation and expansion. UK has requested $175 million in agency funds from the state Legislature for renovations.

“Today we are taking a first step in a vital need for our student body,” said Student Government President Roshan Palli, the student trustee. “This by far will be the most important vote of my time on the board.”

The expansion would connect the Student Center with Alumni Gym and add a workout facility for students on North Campus, UK spokesman Jay Blanton said in early January.

The renovation is part of an overall emphasis on improving the student experience at UK.

Faculty trustee Voro agreed that a renovated complex would attract more students, but she also said that the deteriorating conditions of some classrooms should be a priority.

“We have some classrooms on campus that are literally dangerous,” she said. “And that doesn’t help us recruit students.”

Voro called conditions in the Grehan Journalism and Fine Arts buildings “atrocious.”

“That diminishes faculty enthusiasm,” she said. “It weakens our sense of community. I would recommend our administration keep a better balance so no student or faculty get left out.”

Other news from Friday’s Board meeting:

  • The Board accepted a $1 million pledge to benefit Honors Program students. The scholarship will fund up to 10 scholarships each year worth $5,000 each.
  • The Board unanimously approved a $45 million project for new football training facilities and practice fields.
  • The Board approved a parking lot project on Scott Street in place of Reynolds Building No. 3, which will be demolished. The lot will help offset the loss of spaces on North Campus, where 431 spots — 268 employee spaces and 163 resident spaces — were eliminated last year for residence hall construction. The $1.9 million project will add 265 parking spaces.