Olathe Kansas State University is preparing to expand into Johnson County, pouncing on a portion of prime development land being donated by the city of Olathe for use as a bioscience research park and educational center.
The overall project, announced Thursday, is being planned for 90 acres adjacent to the Olathe school district's activities center on College Boulevard, just east of Kansas Highway 7.
The land - with an estimated market value of $9 million - is being given by the city to establish a campus whose growth will be counted on for hundreds of jobs, millions of dollars in investment and the seemingly unlimited potential for economic development offered by teaming with a major research university.
"This is huge," Olathe Mayor Michael Copeland said. "If you look across America, there is no progressive, prosperous community without an outstanding educational system. And we have that here in Johnson County. But this is just a natural progression to the next level."
K-State's immediate plans call for building upon the university's growing reputation as a world leader in food safety and security, food systems and animal health. Jon Wefald, university president, envisions a $30 million research building to start, financed by individual donations, corporate contributions and grants and other funds from the federal government.
A handful of academic programs also could be available at the Olathe campus, perhaps offering master's degrees in forensic science, animal health, foods and nutrition, and strategic studies, Wefald said. K-State's share of the site is 40 acres, or the equivalent of Kansas University's Edwards Campus in Overland Park.
Room for two
K-State won't be competing with KU for students, grants or other resources, he said. Instead, the university will be angling to bolster its standing in a global marketplace that calls for experts focusing on what they do best, therefore securing benefits for Olathe, the state of Kansas and the entire United States.
"This is not a finite pie. It's an unlimited pie," Wefald said. "We want Kansas to be an intellectual powerhouse for the 21st century."
Earlier Thursday, the Kansas Bioscience Authority's board of directors approved spending $150,000 to plan for establishing laboratory space at two sites: the campus in Olathe, and at the KU Medical Center in Kansas City, Kan.
Clay Blair, chairman of the bioscience authority, envisions about 25,000 square feet of lab space being built in Olathe, likely using about $6 million from the authority and creating enough room for perhaps a dozen operations that would grow out of K-State research at the site.
The lab incubator then would allow the most promising technologies to mature to the point of securing venture capital, he said, thereby generating more jobs and investments for the community and the state.
The bioscience authority is poised to control 50 acres at the Olathe campus, with an intention to start with construction of the lab space and then expand into office and research space for other high-tech operations.
"The bioscience authority is not shy or timid," said Blair, who led the push to create the new partnerships in Olathe, 20 years after his family donated 40 acres of land for KU's Edwards Campus. "We step up and we're trying to make things happen. That's the mission we've been charged with."
The Olathe City Council plans to make the donation official within the next two months, Copeland said. A memorandum of understanding is being drafted for approval by the city, bioscience authority and K-State.
Wefald said he could envision K-State's portion of the campus taking shape within the next three to four years. He doesn't anticipate any extra money from the Kansas Legislature, and instead intends to seek financial support from some 40 animal-science and related companies that already are doing business in the Kansas City metro area.
The federal government - Congress, the Department of Homeland Security, the CIA, Department of Agriculture and others - also will be given the opportunity to invest in the campus, Wefald said. And so, too, will K-State's strong donor lineup of "heavy hitters," not to mention K-State's 20,000 alumni in Johnson County.
The anticipated benefits of the donated land and related developments left Wefald reaching for descriptions that would resonate with Wildcat faithful.
"It's second only to winning the Fiesta Bowl," he said, drawing laughs from about 50 people attending the announcement at Olathe Northwest High School. "No, no - it's second only to winning the Big 12 championship over the University of Oklahoma."
"You know, I think it's right there," he said, before continuing with a rundown of his hopes, plans and dreams for the site that soon will be anchored with purple pride.
Later, the pending donation still was sinking in.
"It's almost unheard of - maybe it's unprecedented - for a city to say, 'Here is $9 million worth of our most prime real estate. Now see what you can do with it,'" Wefald said. "It's a dream come true."