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Archive for Sunday, July 15, 2001

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July 15, 2001

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The beauty of Kansas University's historic central campus is worth a little extra effort.

No matter what else they remember about Kansas University, almost any visitor or student recalls the beauty of the Mount Oread campus.

The well-maintained historical buildings, the beautiful trees and flower beds and the striking vision of the Campanile over Memorial Stadium all contribute to a favorable mental image of KU.

Four campus buildings Strong Hall, Dyche Hall, Lippincott Hall and Spooner Hall already have deservedly been placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Now KU officials want to seek a national historic district designation for the heart of the campus.

In recent years, the public has grown more sensitive to the advantages of preserving historic properties. The demolition of old Fraser Hall in 1965 was a turning point for many people who value KU's tradition. The desire to preserve the historic appearance of Jayhawk Boulevard was reflected in the decision to save the facade of Hoch Auditorium when it fell victim to a lightning-sparked fire in 1991.

Now, KU officials are considering an entire historic district that could stretch along Jayhawk Boulevard from the Chi Omega fountain to the Kansas Union. Almost all of the area is covered by the "environs" that surround buildings already on the register. That means that officials must consider the impact on those buildings of any construction or major alteration in the area around the historic property.

Officials cite a number of advantages the university can reap from designating a historic district. The designation may be a catalyst to attract more donations and grant funding to preserve historic properties. It also allows the university to preserve the whole historical environment of KU, including such features as landscaping and other campus features. The area could be expanded, for instance, to include such KU landmarks as Potter Lake or the Campanile.

Although most people associated with KU value the beauty of the campus, they may have reservations about how a historic district designation will affect future campus planning. KU officials, however, are satisfied that a district would not be overly restrictive. Preservation decisions would be handled by a university historic preservation board. Although the decisions would be reviewed by the state, the fact that all of the KU campus is owned by the state would seem to reduce the possibility for the kind of historic preservation conflicts that occasionally have arisen in other parts of Lawrence.

Some buildings would be listed as "non-contributing" (Wescoe Hall would be in this category) in the historic district. Any replacement or revision of such buildings would be subject to review. Most of those structures already lie within the environs of historic buildings, and consideration of their visual impact on the campus only makes sense.

Another goal of the historic district would be to send a message to future generations about how important it is to those associated with the university to maintain and preserve its tradition and beauty. Not many universities in the nation have such a beautiful core campus to maintain. It would honor all those who have built and contributed to this university to make sure its historic character is enjoyed for generations to come.

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