Improved center a “boon” to campus, now don’t waste it

UK’s remodeled faculty center could be an important asset for university fundraising, as long as it’s managed well enough to recoup its operating costs.

The Hilary J. Boone Center, which has been closed since 2004, will reopen in February, when its renovations are complete. Although the center has been closed for three years, the renovation process was delayed while the Board of Trustees debated over the scope of improvements and how to finance them.

The trustees eventually settled on a plan that costs $6 million and includes a dining facility that can hold about 300 people. Although the renovated center won’t be large enough to hold academic conferences, as some trustees had desired, it will nevertheless be a boon (no pun intended) to UK — especially for fundraising.

Donations are a key factor in UK’s goal to become a top-20 public research university by 2020: Without more money, the university can’t raise salaries or build new research space. But since there is no facility on campus to host large events for donors, UK has to rent space at local hotels when trying to woo donors.

The renovated Boone Center will allow UK to bring many of those events to campus. Most importantly, the costs of food and space will remain within the university instead of going to hotels. Those sums are significant: UK spent close to $1.4 million last year on fundraising events held off campus, President Lee Todd said in an April 30 Kernel article.

Beyond the price tag, there are other benefits to holding fundraising events at UK. The Boone Center is located at the heart of campus — on Rose Street, across from the Chemistry-Physics Building — and visitors will be steps away from seeing everyday life at the university. For alumni, donor events will be a chance to come back and see the campus where they spent four years, rather than the ballroom of a hotel a few miles down the road.

However, the center is not a guaranteed moneymaker for the university. If not enough faculty and staff members purchase memberships, the price of operating the center will be more than the revenue it brings in.

“It’s still an open question if it will break even and turn a profit,” said faculty trustee Ernie Yanarella in an Aug. 30 Kernel article. “It’s all a matter of aggressive marketing.”

UK should not shy away from promoting center membership — many faculty and staff members hired in the past three years may not even know the Boone Center exists. Without a healthy roster of members, it is sure to need subsidies from the general fund or donations to stay open.

Self-sufficiency should be UK’s main goal for the Boone Center. It would be a waste to spend $6 million updating a facility that cannot pay for its day-to-day costs, much less the price of the renovation.