UK Communications college will need millions to jump start process for new building

Dr. Jennifer Greer will assume her role as the new dean of UK’s College of Communications and Information in August of 2019.

Rick Childress

A highly anticipated new College of Communications building is no longer on track, the college’s dean said Wednesday, locking faculty, staff and students into less-than-ideal temporary spaces for the foreseeable future. 

The College of Communications will need to raise a sizable amount of money—somewhere between $8-$12 million—to jump start the process of funding and constructing a new building, said Jennifer Greer, the dean of the college who started in August. 

The Kentucky state legislature has already allowed the university to spend $65 million for a potential new building, but UK and the College of Communications will likely have to generate much of the actual cash, Greer told an assembly of many of the Communications college’s staff and faculty on Wednesday. She said that even after enough money is raised, it could be three years until a new building would be ready.

Most of the recent state money has gone to refurbishing older buildings, but not for actually building new ones, Greer said.

The announcement came as bad news to staff and faculty in attendance who have toughed out the past year in an old, hard-to-maintain Blazer Dining building in the hopes of soon getting a new building. The university administration is backing the college and will look to help in any way it can, Greer said.

“Everybody wants us out of Blazer Dining,” said Greer, who emphasized a needed sense of community among the college during this difficult time. “So, I think the pressure points are going to work in our favor, but we also have to put some skin in the game, we’ve got to bring capital to the table.”

When Greer was interviewing to become the college’s dean last spring, she said there was some understanding that the university was nearing a deal with a donor that would have gotten progress on the building going, but that deal fell through before she even accepted the position.

Greer said she hoped the building would also be partially funded through a private-public partnership. A private-public partnership would allow a private business to pay for part of the building and then cohabitate the building with the college. 

In questions directed to the dean, some faculty and staff were concerned that the college would see declining enrollment and start shedding staff and faculty because of the older facilities. 

One faculty member was concerned that the college would receive less new students, because the college’s building is no longer on the university tour, while others said they’d felt sick and had gotten chest X-rays after spending significant time in the Blazer Dining building. 

Most of the college’s offices have been housed in Blazer Dining or have been dispersed in various offices across campus—such as McVey Hall, where the Kentucky Kernel currently resides—ever since renovations on the Grehan Journalism building, the college’s home for several decades, began in 2017. After renovations, the Grehan building will function mainly as part of the College of Engineering.

“Everybody is hurting in some way,” Greer said. “I just think the feeling of being not valued has got to be crushing. Because it’s like we had a space and now it’s gone and do you not care about us? They do care about us, it’s just we’ve got a space issue. Again there is a promise that they are going to support us in any way possible.” 

Greer said employees with the university’s facilities management team will soon begin to re-inspect the Blazer Dining building and the third floor of McVey Hall, where encroaching mold has shut down portions of the Kernel offices.

“Those of you who are in Blazer Dining, I get it. Those of you on the third floor of McVey, I get it. It’s not good space,” Greer said. “Nobody wants us in that space… They know it’s bad space.”

During her speech to faculty, Greer also looked to quash rumors about how the Grehan building was given to the Engineering college.

Provost David Blackwell made the final decision to give the building to the Engineering college, Greer said. The Grehan building was not promised in the offer letter to the new Engineering dean, Rudy Buchheit. No dean was promised a new building upon joining the university, Greer said.