KU’s pending demolition list grows, including one building on Jayhawk Boulevard; Regents plan to look at demolition policy

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World

Smith Hall, home to KU's Religious Studies Department, has been included on a list of buildings KU intends to demolish in the future. KU has committed to moving the Moses sculpture and the burning bush window, picture above, prior to demolition. However, KU has not settled on a new home for the new pieces.

The University of Kansas plans to demolish about 250,000 square feet of buildings — including one near the entrance of Jayhawk Boulevard — in the next three years, new state documents show.

KU has begun the process of winning approval from the Kansas Board of Regents to tear down Smith Hall — the 1967 building that houses KU’s Religious Studies Department — along Jayhawk Boulevard, across from the Kansas Union. McCollum Labs, a research building on KU’s West Campus, along with a small entomology research lab, also are proposed to be torn down in full or in part, according to budget documents prepared for the Kansas Board of Regents.

“Given KU’s financial constraints and the need to provide for deferred maintenance across the university, KU is not in a position to repair and maintain these buildings in a safe manner,” KU spokeswoman Erinn Barcomb-Peterson said via email. “We carefully and thoroughly consider the other possibilities before concluding that there is not a feasible and prudent alternative to demolishing buildings.”

Smith is scheduled to be demolished after the summer of 2023, Barcomb-Peterson said. She said KU leaders are still determining where KU’s Religious Studies Department will move to following the 2022-23 school year. Barcomb-Peterson said KU leaders have committed to save and move two pieces of artwork — a Moses statue and a stained glass window depicting the burning bush — prior to demolition.

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World photo

Smith Hall, 1300 Jayhawk Boulevard, is pictured on June 13, 2022.

Word of the new demolitions come as historic preservations have decried the decision to tear down the early 1900s stone Facilities and Operations building at 1503 Sunflower Road on the main KU campus. It also comes at a time when the Kansas Legislature has provided the Board of Regents $10 million to tear down unused or under-utilized buildings at state university campuses as part of an initiative to shrink the estimated $1.2 billion in deferred maintenance costs at the state’s universities.

“These requests for demolitions, I suspect will become more prevalent,” Wint Winter Jr., a Lawrence resident and member of the Kansas Board of Regents, told the Journal-World.

With the prospect of more demolitions on the horizon, the Journal-World sought information from the Regents about current policies related to demolition of university buildings. Regents officials said they were confident the demolition policy was properly followed in the case of the 1900s stone Facilities and Operation building, but also said they would look at making some adjustments to the policies or processes for future demolitions.

Specifically, Regents Chair Cheryl Harrison-Lee said the Regents may want to tweak the policy to receive more information about any historic designations that are attached to buildings scheduled for demolition. The 1900s Facilities and Operations building is not itself listed as a landmark historic building, but it is designated as a “contributing structure” in KU’s historic district, which stretches over a large part of Mt. Oread.

The role the building played in KU’s historic district was not disclosed to the Board of Regents in the November 2019 staff memo that was presented to the board when it gave formal authorization for the building to be razed.

“We expect that we will learn lessons as the initiative progresses, and the Board will absolutely consider changes that can strengthen the policy,” Harrison-Lee told the Journal-World via email. “For example, while there are state statutes governing the demolition of a historic building, historic designation is not part of the information requested in current (Regents’) policy governing building demolition. I expect that the Regents will discuss amending the policy to add that moving forward.”

Winter — who has worked on several historic preservation projects as both an attorney and property owner — said he is pleased that the Regents have a policy on demolition, but he thinks there are questions about the procedure such projects go through.

For instance, he’s unsure about the proper timelines for appeals related to demolition projects on university campuses. Because the old Facilities and Operations building is a contributing structure in KU’s historic district, the demolition plan was reviewed by the State Historic Preservation Office shortly after the Regents granted approval for demolition in November 2019. The state’s historic preservation officer objected to the demolition, and it did not proceed.

However, in December 2021, Gov. Laura Kelly determined there were no feasible alternatives to demolition and issued a letter allowing the demolition to proceed.

“It does sound like the Board of Regents and KU followed the law,” said Winter, who was not on the board in 2019. “But I think we need a little more definition about when the actors in this play are supposed to proceed, so that it is done in a little more timely manner.”

A spokeswoman for the governor’s office didn’t immediately respond on Monday afternoon to a question from the Journal-World regarding why it took approximately two years for the governor to overrule the historic preservation officer’s decision.

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World

A construction lift is parked outside KU’s former Facilities and Operations Building on the Lawrence campus of the University of Kansas on June 9, 2022. The vacant building is scheduled to be razed in the near future.

There have been no indications that the Regents intend to reconsider their demolition decision related to the Facilities and Operations building. Winter said he was going to ask the Regents’ staff to look into the process used for demolition requests, but “it is not right to try to undo that action of the board in 2019,” he said.

Rather, the focus likely will turn to future demolition requests. Several of the projects on KU’s list still need another round of approval from the Regents before they can proceed. KU proposed the demolition of Smith Hall, McCollum Labs, and the unnamed entomology research lab as part of a Regents budget document that contemplated how to spend the $10 million in demolition funds coming from the state of Kansas.

The Regents at their May meeting approved that budget document, which in total listed 871,000 square feet — or 26 buildings — to be demolished at the six regents institutions, plus the KU Medical Center.

KU’s 245,936 square feet of buildings to be demolished topped the list, but was closely followed by about 230,000 square feet on the KU Medical Center Campus. Kansas State is proposing about 166,000 square feet of demolitions, Wichita State 138,000, Pittsburg State 53,000 and Emporia State 35,000 square feet.

While the Regents have voted to put the KU projects on the budget document, the board still must vote to give formal approval for each demolition project before they can proceed. The Regents’ policy on demolition of university buildings requires Board of Regents approval “regardless of size, cost or other factors,” Regents spokesman Matt Keith said via email.

Smith Hall, McCollum Labs and the entomology research lab account for about 37,000 square feet of KU’s 245,000 square feet of demolitions. The Facility and Operations building, and the vacant Oliver Hall dormitory — both projects that are underway and have received required approvals — account for the balance of space.

As for the McCollum Labs demolition, Barcomb-Peterson said it wasn’t immediately clear what was entailed with that project. Some demolition work has occurred at that site previously, and Barcomb-Peterson said university officials have said they don’t have plans in the near future to raze the building. The Regents document, however, indicates the building is to be “razed” by fiscal year 2026, which runs through June 2027. McCollum Labs — listed at about 15,000 square feet — is located at 2095 Constant Avenue, next door to the Higuchi Biosciences Center on KU’s West Campus. The entomology laboratory is listed at about 2,400 square feet, and is located at 1651 Crestline Drive near KU’s Public Safety Office.

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World

The McCollum Laboratories building is pictured on KU’s West Campus at 2095 Constant Avenue on June 13, 2022.


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