When Neeli Bendapudi, dean of Kansas University’s School of Business, gave a presentation recently to the Lawrence Rotary Club on a totally unrelated topic, she still managed to work in a few references to the school’s biggest need.
“We desperately need a new building,” she told the crowd then.
It’s an old need at the school, but an ongoing universitywide fundraising campaign and a new, energetic leader have helped to reinvigorate the project.
Bendapudi said two potential sites for a building have been targeted. One is to build on top of and renovate the existing Carruth-O’Leary Hall at 1246 W. Campus Road. Another is the parking lot across Naismith Drive to the east from Allen Fieldhouse. The school is scheduled to receive drawings of both sites from Chicago-based Perkins & Will, the architecture firm that designed Duke University’s business building, among others, later this spring. Both sites have advantages and disadvantages, she said.
To make the move, the school is going to need money. A lot of it. And university leaders know it’s going to have to come from privately raised funds.
“The number that I was given from previous estimates is that it’s at least a $50 million project,” Bendapudi said.
Some commitments have been made, she said. It’s definitely more than zero, but she admits it’s still a long way from $50 million.
And as for Summerfield Hall, the five-story yellow brick building dedicated back in 1960 that houses the school today?
“It’s dreadful,” Bendapudi said.
She listed some of the school’s main issues with the building:
• It’s not made for the times of today.
Classrooms aren’t wired for technology and often just have a whiteboard and seats. Faculty say the seating arrangements aren’t conducive to group work.
“It’s not fine wine,” she said. “You can’t just build it, leave it and expect it to get better.”
• It can’t accommodate expanded enrollments.
“We’re bursting at the seams,” Bendapudi said. While KU is trying to increase its enrollments, the business school is poised to assist with that but is limited by the space into which it can grow, she said.
• For recruiters and potential students, Summerfield Hall is a turnoff.
“Almost any other campus they go to, the business school is, if not the nicest, one of the nicest buildings on campus,” she said.
Dale Seuferling, president of the KU Endowment Association, said the project is one of the larger building projects associated with KU’s comprehensive fundraising campaign, scheduled for a public launch next month.
“We need, preferably, a single gift that funds a significant amount of the requirement,” Seuferling said.
Once that gift is secured, Seuferling said, they’ll move on to filling out the remainder of the need with other donors.
Parker Lessig, a distinguished professor of business, said he occasionally has to move his classes to space in the union so his students can work in groups.
And the recruiting issue is real, he said. It’s easy to see if students go to Nebraska or Missouri. Or Colorado, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas or really any number of places, he said.
“Think of it this way,” Lessig said. “How good would KU be in attracting quality teams and recruits if what they showed them was the Allen Fieldhouse of 50 years ago?”
The need for the building isn’t new, and school leaders have been courting donors for some time, even before Bendapudi arrived on campus last summer.
Lessig said he thought the economy played a role in why previous efforts weren’t successful.
But the school’s new leader isn’t backing down from the challenges ahead.
“We will get this building,” Bendapudi said. “Or I will die trying.”