KU presence grows in suburban K.C.

Edwards Campus expansion on track

Despite the fanfare planned for this week, Bob Clark isn’t getting too excited about the opening of Regnier Hall at Kansas University’s Edwards Campus.

After all, this has been the plan all along.

What Clark, vice chancellor for the campus since 1997, does get excited about is how the building will allow KU’s presence in the Kansas City area to grow. Or how the campus is working more closely with Johnson County Community College. Or how expanded programming might prepare the region to be a national leader in the life sciences industry.

“To be honest with you, it’s great that the building is moving forward,” Clark said. “But I’m thinking about what we do next.”

In many ways, that sense of planning has taken the campus, at 126th Street and Quivira Road, to where it is today.

When Clark arrived, the “campus” consisted of one building, the Regents Center, that opened in 1993. The campus had 10 degree programs, all graduate offerings.

On Friday, the campus will dedicate its second building: Regnier Hall, a $17.8 million, 82,000-square-foot building that more than doubles the amount of classroom, computer lab and office space on the campus.

It’s the first step in a $70 million expansion plan that has been in place since 1999.

Officials at the campus, which enrolls about 2,400 students each semester, now plan to nearly double its enrollment to about 4,000 students.

Regnier Hall, pictured from the center of photo to the right, is the new addition to Kansas University's Edwards Campus in Overland Park. The 7.8 million building will open Monday.

They’re planning to increase their 25 programs — mostly graduate offerings with a handful of undergraduate degrees — to 40 in the next 10 years.

And for the first time, the campus is adding traditional campus features that previously have been lacking. In the spring, KU will open a student union in a building purchased adjacent to the Edwards Campus. And a 240-seat auditorium in Regnier Hall will, for the first time, offer public programming in the evenings. The Hall Center for the Humanities, Spencer Art Museum, Lied Center and Kansas City Symphony all have signed on to provide programming.

“It changes the feel of the campus,” Clark said. “It’s changing from one building where students and faculty interacted to really a campus environment.”

Class options

It’s a difference that Edwards Campus students are beginning to feel.

“It doesn’t feel like a commuter campus, per se,” said John Henderson, a senior majoring in language, literature and writing. “It’s a smaller campus, so you get to know people that much faster.”

Henderson attended classes on KU’s Lawrence campus for several years in the early 1980s before moving to Chicago. When he moved back to the Kansas City area, he decided to go back to school to finish his degree.

“Geographically, it’s really convenient,” the Shawnee resident said. “And I like the schedule. I’m a late-night person, so I like the evening classes.”

The schedule also is a plus for Kimberly Gencur, a Sprint lobbyist who is working on her master’s degree in international studies. She said she probably wouldn’t have pursued a graduate degree if the Edwards Campus weren’t in Overland Park.

While Edwards Campus staff Reena Thomas, lab assistant, foreground left, and Maureen Raymond, adminstration, right, organize the front reception desk at the new Regnier Hall, Rick Hunter, Lawrence, an employee with Kennedy Glass, Lawrence, background left, finishes some work on a door. The new hall opens Monday.

“I would have thought long and hard about it,” she said of commuting to Lawrence. “But this was a no-brainer.”

Economic development

The Edwards Campus continues to follow the mission it was given when established by the Kansas Board of Regents in 1991: “to serve the work force and community development needs of the region.”

“We take seriously our statewide responsibility,” Chancellor Robert Hemenway said during a recent interview. “It’s the nature of the university. We have a responsibility to the state of Kansas and to the greater Kansas City metro area.”

Clark said when he arrived at KU, many Kansas City CEOs complained about the lack of program offerings at the Edwards Campus. He said those complaints had since subsided.

Irene French, interim president of the Overland Park Chamber of Commerce, agreed that the campus was filling a niche in Johnson County.

Kansas University has scheduled a week of events surrounding the opening of Regnier Hall at the Edwards Campus in Overland Park. All events are at Regnier Hall, 126th and Quivira.Events include:Monday8:30 a.m.: Ribbon-cutting ceremony by the Overland Park Chamber of Commerce.5 p.m.-7 p.m.: Family night, featuring crafts, a Science City exhibit, interactive exhibits from KU departments and an “instrument petting zoo” with the Kansas City Symphony.Tuesday7:30 p.m.: “Winston Churchill: Why was he the unquestioned tribal leader in Britain’s hour of crisis?” lecture by Victor Bailey, Hall Center for the Humanities. Refreshments begin at 7 p.m.Wednesday5 p.m.-7 p.m.: KU Athletics Night, featuring a question-and-answer session with men’s basketball coach Bill Self at 5:45 p.m. and an autograph session at 6:15 p.m.Thursday9:30 a.m.: Olathe Chamber of Commerce coffee.7 p.m.: Lied Center performance, featuring “Old Time Band in the Park” with the Kansas Brass Quintet.Friday5:30 p.m.: Dedication ceremony and reception, by invitation only.OngoingGuided tours will be available at 6 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. nightly.

“It’s absolutely another gem for Johnson County,” she said. “To have an awesome school with a reputation like that to go along with the community college is a match made in heaven.”

She said both JCCC and KU were part of the chamber’s pitch to business officials considering relocating to Johnson County.

A consultant report released last year showed the Edwards Campus contributed nearly $208 million to the Johnson County economy between 1993 and 2002. That includes additional earnings by graduates and benefits to companies that have built campus buildings and supplied their operation.

“That means a lot to new businesses,” French said.

JCCC cooperation

Continued expansion at the Edwards Campus likely will mean working even more closely with JCCC.

The two schools already have three joint programs, where students take two years at JCCC before transferring to the Edwards Campus. Those are in molecular biology, public administration and literature, language and writing. Clark said he expected more joint programs in the future, especially in the field of life sciences.

Chuck Carlsen, president of JCCC, said many people assumed that his college and KU were in direct competition. But he said that couldn’t be farther from the truth.

“It’s truly a partnership,” Carlsen said. “The state of Kansas, the last thing they need is another university. What the state needs is better cooperation between existing universities.”

Future funding

Regnier Hall is named for the Victor and Helen Regnier Charitable Foundation, of Leawood, which donated $3 million to the project. The Hall Family Foundation in Kansas City, Mo., donated another $5 million.

The remaining $9.8 million is being funded with a $15 per-credit-hour fee that will pay off construction bonds.

The expansion plan call for two more buildings. The next step would be a building to house a School of Information, Science and Technology.

How the Edwards Campus will pay for its long-term operating expenses remains to be seen. KU’s top administrators have said they would continue contributing about $5 million per year in faculty and administrative salaries for the campus.

The campus has instituted a $30-per-credit-hour fee that will provide $1 million a year to add 10 to 13 faculty positions.

But Clark said other operating costs associated with expansion would need another source of funding. Two possibilities are a property tax levy similar to that provided for JCCC or securing funds from the Kansas Bioscience Authority, the entity charged with distributing approximately $500 million created by the Kansas Economic Growth Act over the next 10 years. The money will be used for life science-related projects.

Securing funds in either manner may be a challenge.

But Clark said it fit with his philosophy in running the campus: “I always have big ideas about what something can be.”