Board OKs negotiations between UK, University Lofts for potential Reynolds Building replacement

The UK art studio department might be finding a new home, after the Board of Trustees approved allowing negotiations toward the purchase of University Lofts.

The art department’s current home is in Reynolds Building No. 1, an old tobacco warehouse in need of much renovation.

UK officials estimate, however, that purchasing the University Lofts building on nearby Bolivar Street — which currently houses students in apartments with open floor plans — and converting it to an art space would be less expensive than renovating the Reynolds Building. A full renovation could cost an estimated $17 million.

At its Tuesday meeting, the board approved the administration’s recommendation that no more than $6.7 million be spent on the lofts property.

University Lofts has a useable square footage similar to that of the Reynolds Building, at 100,000 square feet, according to a UK news release. The lofts have recently been renovated.

Some renovations have already been made to the Reynolds Building in the past few years, said UK spokesman Jay Blanton, such as a new air conditioning system. He said the Reynolds Building has been an issue for the bulk of outgoing President Lee Todd’s 10-year tenure.

“We have spent a pretty significant amount of money over the years trying to address some of the issues there,” Blanton said.

He said UK has been in talks with University Lofts management on and off for a few months.

Some in the art program think moving the space would be an improvement, even if it takes time to move and adjust.

“I feel like it’s constantly dirty,” Chris Bryant, an art education and art studio senior, said of the Reynolds Building. “I don’t feel like it’s a safe environment.”

Willie Robertson, a painting instructor and painting graduate student, said the Reynolds Building has plenty of room, but “it’s not exactly a pleasant environment to be in. It doesn’t encourage or inspire necessarily.”

He said, though, that many art students like the “wild and free-spirited” atmosphere of the Reynolds Building.

But, “I wouldn’t mind giving up that history or that community for the sake of the facility,” he said.

If the university and University Lofts negotiate a deal, it would still need to be approved by the secretary of finance and state legislature, Blanton said. That process could take about a year to complete.

Art students could potentially start using the University Lofts space in fall of 2013 if no complications arise.

The Reynolds Building would be converted to storage space for the university, Blanton said.