A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

University of Kentucky trustees move toward demolition of Kirwan-Blanding residential complex

Focusing on the long-term needs of students and the campus, the University of Kentucky Board of Trustees approved a proposal Tuesday to begin moving toward demolition of the Kirwan-Blanding Resident Housing Complex and Dining Commons.

The demolition process  would be paid for with university resources and private funding and would occur over the course of the next few years, beginning in 2018 with utility work, said Eric N. Monday, UK’s executive vice president for finance and administration. 

The first step is to declare the property as surplus, a requirement under state law that must be met before the university can dispose of or sell property.

Condition ratings for the complex – opened in 1967 – are among the poorest on campus. The demolition price tag estimated at $15 million (well within the legislative authority of $25 million) pales in comparison to the more than $126 million estimated to renovate the deteriorating complex into appropriate student housing or for other uses.

Kirwan-Blanding Complex. UK Photo | Mark Cornelison.

In fact, to offset the cost of renovation, the university would have to charge students higher rates in the Kirwan-Blanding Complex than the cost of living in residence halls built within the last five years.

Demolition also will include asbestos abatement and significant utility re-routing. Major utilities are located beneath the complex. The 50-year-old complex – two 23-story towers and eight low-rise buildings along with a dining hall – sits on nearly 13 acres on the central campus.

In addition to the demolition, about $5 million to $6 million would be spent to create green space in the area currently occupied by the towers, while also preserving the current canopy of trees that frame the complex.

“Students have told us they want to live in high-tech living and learning spaces, spaces that encourage community and interaction with other students and faculty,” Monday said.

“Students – and other members of our community – have also told us that more green space is a critical element in building the campus environment we all want. This process, if approved, helps accomplish those goals on behalf of our students and the entire UK community.”

Over the last five years, through public-private partnerships, UK has constructed nearly 7,000 new, state-of-the-art residence hall beds as well as modern dining facilities across the campus, moves which made it possible to take the Kirwan-Blanding Complex and Commons dining facility offline nearly two years ago.

In a related move, the board was also OK’d a proposal to declare as surplus property the Commonwealth Village Graduate Housing Complex. The 1963 complex, along Nicholasville Road, has been vacant since September 2017, when the university converted Roselle Hall into graduate housing. By declaring the complex as surplus, the university can move toward a sale of Commonwealth Village.

Like the Kirwan-Blanding Complex, the more than 50-year-old Commonwealth Village was deteriorating.

Significantly, with the sale of Commonwealth Village, the university will create a graduate housing replacement fund that would be specifically targeted at improvements – and construction of – graduate family housing where Greg Page Apartments are currently located.

“With these moves the board and the administration under President Capilouto’s leadership are thinking strategically about the needs of our students and of our campus community,” said Britt Brockman, UK’s board chair. “We have built housing and dining facilities to create community and improve living and learning spaces. We must continue that process while thoughtfully creating gathering spaces that further enhance our campus and the special community that more and more students want to call home.”

In other action, the UK Board of Trustees approved adjustment in housing and dining rates for 2018-2019 by approximately 3 percent.

The proposed rates reflect contractual obligations with UK’s housing and dining partners, EdR and Aramark, respectively. These rates, importantly, underscore the institution’s commitment to put in place moderate rate adjustments for housing and dining costs.

More information about the specific housing and dining rate proposals can be found here. 

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One Comment

  1. Errol says:

    How many beds does the facility slated for demolition currently contain? What’s the cost of constructing that same number of beds today at a 50 year+ quality of construction? Since the facility appears to have been taken offline a number of years ago, it would stand to reason that both prior to that time and afterwards, little if any capital resources have been invested in this facility to address critical maintenance and repair. If so, how much has the lack of adequate stewardship of this facility contributed to today’s $125M estimated price tag for renovation? Do you have any historic preservation mandates to deal with that would apply to this facility?

    It would be good to see the cost benifit analysis that drove this decision to demolish this facility designed by ED Stone, a master architect. Just like one wouldn’t casually throw away their valued family heritage be it an old collectable rocking chair that belonged to their great grandmother, or old family pictures, inherited money, a family name, other resources, etc., an educational institution should not take lightly throwing away their architectural heritage. It is mentioned that students indicate the preference for new facilities. What do the alumni or the larger university community think? While new students who will be there mainly for four years, will be enamered with the ticky-tacky, and fads being offered by private student housing developers, the administration should be focusing on being good stewards of their campus’ architectural heritage and history. Except for the lack of interest and creativity, these buildings can totally be adapted to present day needs of higher education institutions be it technology, accessibility, codes, etc. How is this decision even the most sustainable option in this day and age where being sustainable matters?

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