University of Kentucky lays out $250M proposal to renovate "core" campus, but lawmakers want specifics

09/15/2015 07:01 PM

FRANKFORT — The University of Kentucky will seek $125 million in state bonds to renovate 11 historic buildings at the heart of its campus in the upcoming budget session, a school official told the Capital Planning Advisory Board Tuesday.

But lawmakers from both parties expressed concerns with vague details of the proposal, which includes $125 million in matching university bonds for a total price tag of $250 million.

The buildings house classes and student services at the “core” of UK’s campus within South Limestone, Avenue of Champions, Rose Street and Washington Avenue.

Steve Byars, UK’s assistant vice president for government relations, said the Council on Postsecondary Education hired a Massachusetts-based facilities consultant, VFA Inc., to review the campuses of state universities and colleges. The 11 UK buildings in question averaged a facilities condition index score of nearly 50 percent, he said, noting a grade of 10 percent or less is considered “good condition” in that assessment.

“They range from about 33 percent to about 65 percent, so they’re facilities in dire need,” Byars said. “As I said, in many cases they’re historic. They’re facilities that, like our homes, if you don’t invest in them then they crumble, and that cost to renew simply gets more expensive every year that you put off that renewal and that restoration.”

Some legislators on the panel, however, said they wanted more details on the university’s proposal, which would add to a debt balance that was $9.1 billion as of June 30, according to an analysis presented to the panel Tuesday. That balance is projected to dip to $7.7 billion by June 30, 2016, the report shows.

“We would like to see maybe a more comprehensive listing of how the dollars might be spent in general terms,” Sen. Stan Humphries, a Cadiz Republican and co-chairman of the advisory board. “You know, it’s our job and our responsibility, I think, to forward along more details of the request and not so much just generalities.”

That was a sentiment shared by Rep. Terry Mills, a Lebanon Democrat who co-chairs the committee.

“As I go through the other universities for example, I see a lot of words like renovate, expand, enhance, and then they list the projects, so I’m a little concerned that if we recommended a project of this magnitude involving this amount of money, that it might send a message to all the other universities that we don’t need the level of detail that I think we should have,” Mills said.

Byars said the university could provide additional information on the proposal, but the age and condition of the buildings could pose issues with developing specifics, as could shuffling classes and offices during renovation work.

“I liken this to kind of a, if you’ve ever done a restoration of your home, which I unfortunately have done, there’s kind of a domino effect, and it gets complicated fast,” he said. “You take a bathroom out. Alright, do you move out of that building, and if so where and for how long, or do you try to stay in the facility and continue to do it with some of the building under construction.

“It gets complicated enough if you’re just doing that in your house. It gets extraordinarily complicated if you’re talking about 10 or 11 buildings at once.”

Kevin Wheatley

Kevin Wheatley is a reporter for Pure Politics. He joined cn|2 in September 2014 after five years at The State Journal in Frankfort, where he covered Kentucky government and politics. You can reach him at kevin.wheatley@charter.com or 502-792-1135 and follow him on Twitter at @KWheatley_cn2.

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