KU says construction of new $200 million facility would depend on securing funding
photo by: Nick Krug
The University of Kansas has submitted a proposal to the Kansas Board of Regents to construct a nearly $200 million science building, a move that ‘appalled’ a group of faculty members concerned about KU’s budget.
But a KU spokesperson said the university’s proposal was procedural and that the building’s construction would be dependent on securing funding. KU does not expect plans for the new building — a second integrated science building — to materialize “soon,” spokesperson Erinn Barcomb-Peterson said, and the university remains focused on its immediate budget challenges.
KU’s vice chancellor for research, Simon Atkinson, sent out a message about the potential new facility in September 2020. Just as the federal government funded infrastructure projects following the Great Recession, of which KU was a beneficiary, KU expects there could soon be a similar stimulus package from the government because of the COVID-19 pandemic’s economic impact.
“As was the case in 2009, it is likely that funds would be directed toward projects that are considered ‘shovel-ready,’ to accelerate the impact of the stimulus,” Atkinson wrote on Sept. 7. “To ensure that KU is well-positioned to take advantage of these funds, should they materialize, we have begun the planning and design phase for a new facility that would be built if KU were able to secure the significant funding needed for its construction.”
KU recently submitted its fiscal year 2023 capital improvement requests to the Kansas Board of Regents, and those include the proposal for the new integrated science building. The Regents will take action on the capital improvement requests at their next meeting, on May 19.
According to KU’s capital improvement request, the projected cost of the building is $198,276,000. The cost of the building would be paid off from fiscal year 2023 to fiscal year 2026. The proposed sources of funding are university funds, student fees, private gifts and federal funds.
The planning and design phase of the building proposal has been funded from a private gift, Barcomb-Peterson said. Barcomb-Peterson, however, was not able to say what percentage of the overall funding would be expected to come from each of the four sources, should the project materialize. She said that “it is too early in the process to know what a breakdown of funding might look like.”
OneKU, a group of KU faculty who organized in the summer of 2020, released a press release about the proposed new building on Thursday night, saying they were “appalled” that KU submitted a request to begin work on a nearly $200 million building in fiscal year 2023.
The group said KU was in a period of “fiscal austerity” during which departments have been asked to make cuts, faculty and staff have had pay cuts and employees have lost their jobs.
“The administration has thus far been less than transparent in explaining the source of funds for the new building, but at least some of it will apparently come from ‘university funds and student fees,’ the very resources the administration has repeatedly claimed are shrinking,” the group wrote. “We call on KU’s administration to invest in the students, staff and faculty it already has, rather than spend money that it does not.”
Nick Syrett, a member of OneKU and professor of women, gender and sexuality studies, said the project would be much less concerning if a majority of the funding were raised from a federal grant or private donations. He said OneKU was supportive of colleagues in the sciences who could benefit from updated facilities, but Syrett said the proposal seemed strange during a time when “we have been told repeatedly that there are all these funding shortfalls.”
Syrett also said he thought KU prioritizes fundraising for new buildings instead of “learning and teaching and research.” As the Journal-World reported, KU recently announced it would be building a new Welcome Center on Oread Avenue, a $21 million project funded through private donors.
As for the potential new integrated science building, Barcomb-Peterson said the proposed site for the building would be between Irving Hill Road and the Central District parking garage, to the south and west of the current Integrated Sciences Building. The new building would include biological science teaching and research labs as well as other associated core labs. It would also include a vivarium, which is an enclosed environment in which plants or animals are raised. The second integrated science building is part of the university’s 2014-2024 Master Plan.
Other aspects of KU’s capital improvement requests to the Regents include:
• $20 million in renovations to Allen Fieldhouse, funded by KU Athletics and private donations;
• $22 million in renovations to Hoglund Ballpark, funded by KU Athletics and private donations;
• $300 million in two phases of renovations to David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium, funded by KU Athletics and private donations;
• $21 million in renovations to Kansas Memorial Union, funded by union and student fees;
• $22 million in parking maintenance and improvement, funded by parking fees.