Lawrence residents plug benefits of ‘town and gown’ atmosphere

Ask longtime Lawrence residents — “townies,” they’re called — what they think about living in a college town, and they will eagerly espouse the virtues of life among the campus crowd. After all, they’re townies — they get it. Or do they?

Many locals may not even realize the extent to which they benefit from what happens on the hill. So we asked four local professionals who work daily in the trenches of the “town and gown” relationship to share their perspectives on what resources Kansas University offers the community.

Jeff Weinberg, assistant to the Chancellor, Kansas University:

KU belongs to the people of Kansas and that means the people of Lawrence. There are many resources utilized and enjoyed by local residents on a regular basis. But there are also many lesser-known resources that provide entertainment, education and cultural experiences. The university offers something for everyone, including exhibits of precious artifacts and rare books, presentations by world-renowned musicians and political dignitaries, summer camps, family and child-care resources, and facilities use for weddings and other social and professional events.

Members of the community give back in significant ways, including tax-supported services and support of scholarships and endowment programs. But very importantly, they give back just by their interaction with the campus community.

Tom Kern, president, Lawrence Chamber of Commerce:

KUis the economic engine that drives Lawrence. The university employs about 9,800 people, most of whom live in the community. With a payroll of more than $300 million per year, the infusion of those wages back into the community is of major significance. The millions of dollars KU spends each year on goods and services from local businesses is another boon to the local economy.

But the university’s impact on the community is about more than money. It provides a quality-of-life component, such as athletic events and cultural arts that you usually wouldn’t have in a town of this size.

Pat Pisani, executive director, Hilltop Child Development Center:

KU has several child-care centers located on campus that welcome children from the community. The facilities are integral parts of research and curriculum in the area of child development.

Our facility is unique; although it is affiliated with KU, it is the only child development center on campus that is a privately owned, nonprofit entity.

Originally founded in 1972 to meet the child-care needs of KU students and staff, Hilltop is open to the entire community. Recent expansion and relocation to a new facility on Irving Hill Road has made it possible to increase enrollment and eliminate the long waiting lists of the past. Some classes still have openings for this fall.

Programs include care for 1- to 2-year-olds, preschool for 3- to 5-year-olds, full-day kindergarten and after-school care for children up to sixth grade.

Jim Marchiony, associate athletics director, KU:

The Athletic Department offers a variety of resources to the community. Twelve sport-specific youth camps are offered each summer, with many other camps taking place during weekends and holiday breaks throughout the year. The Booth Family Hall of Athletics, located in the Allen Fieldhouse, is an interactive celebration of the history of Kansas athletics. Admission is free, and tours are available by special arrangement. We also are currently able to allow facility use for the communitywide summer workout program, Red Dog’s Dog Days.

Our relationship with the community is one of give and take. Area residents give back to us through their participation in ticket sales. Recent statistics showed Lawrence and Kansas City area residents were responsible for a combined 65 percent of football season tickets sales. In addition, the fact that KU fan support has a national reputation helps recruit athletes, as well as students in general.