Regents approve new KU capital improvement plan that hopes for major library renovations, new student health center

photo by: Journal-World File

Watson Library, 1425 Jayhawk Blvd., on the University of Kansas campus.

The University of Kansas now has an updated plan — or in some cases, wish list — of major building projects it hopes to undertake in the next five years.

The Kansas Board of Regents on Thursday unanimously approved new five-year capital improvement plans for KU and other state universities.

KU’s plan totals $1.06 billion worth of construction projects over the next five years on the Lawrence campus and another $806 million on the medical center campus in Kansas City, Kan.

But history has shown many of those projects won’t be constructed in the next five years. State policy requires each university to place major projects on a capital improvement plan before funds can be spent to build the project. Thus, universities fill their capital improvement plans with projects that they have in mind but don’t necessarily have funds to build, on the chance that funding from a donor or other sources might develop.

A new wellness center that would replace the aged Watkins Student Health Center is the largest project added to the list for the Lawrence campus. The capital improvement plan lists the project as a $58 million venture.

In recent weeks, KU Chancellor Douglas Girod has said the center could be a “re-imagining” of how KU provides health services to students, including more emphasis on mental health, nutrition and other wellness issues.

“Really help students learn how to care for themselves and keep themselves well throughout their lives,” said Girod, who is a medical doctor.

Girod told the Journal-World that he expected there will be “significant philanthropic interest in the project.” However, a firm timetable for the project has not been determined. The plan lists the project as taking place in 2024 and 2025, but dates in the capital improvement plans change often.

Girod said the university has done some early planning for the project, though. He said the new building likely would be “in the neighborhood” of the current Watkins Student Health Center, which is on KU’s southern campus, about a block east of Naismith Drive and Allen Fieldhouse.

“We would want it to be high-profile,” Girod said. “We don’t want it to be hidden. We want it to be readily accessible to everybody, readily visible to everybody.”

As the Journal-World reported last month, several other notable large projects also were slated to be added to KU’s list. Regents approved adding all the projects to the list, although all projects will have to receive a separate round of Regents approval before they could be funded or built. The newly added projects include:

• Law Enforcement Training Center development, $225 million. KU hasn’t released specific plans for the project, but KU has long operated in Hutchinson the state’s primary training center for law enforcement officers.

• Construction of a new wellness center, $58 million. KU leaders have briefly talked about the desire to replace the aged Watkins Health Center with a new facility.

• Watson Library renovation, $40 million. KU Dean of Libraries Kevin Smith previously told the Journal-World that discussions with KU Endowment have begun on finding donors that could support a major updating of the interior spaces of the library, which will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2024.

• Student Success Center renovation, $30.5 million. KU leaders have talked about the need to have a “one-stop shop” where students know to go for advice, counseling and access to program designed to help them navigate college.

• Robinson Center renovation, $15 million. The center houses multiple gymnasiums and other facilities connected to KU’s Department of Health, Sport and Exercise Sciences.

Other big projects that were added in previous years remain on KU’s five-year capital improvement plan, although they aren’t necessarily any closer to becoming reality. Those include three Kansas Athletics projects. The plan continues to have $350 million in renovations to Memorial Stadium, KU football’s home. The plan lists the funding source for that massive renovation as “to be determined,” although it also says private donors and athletic department funds are likely sources for some of the work. The plan also includes a $20 million renovation to Allen Fieldhouse and $22 million to upgrade Hoglund Ballpark, home to KU’s baseball team. KU hasn’t released any detailed plans to renovate historic Allen Fieldhouse, although officials previously have talked about the need to improve restrooms and other interior equipment and spaces in the building.

Outside of athletics, KU also continues to list a $198 million integrated science building, although the plan says funding for such a project is “to be determined.” In the past, KU officials have said they want the building on the CIP in case federal money becomes available for certain science and research initiatives.

As for smaller projects that may actually produce signs of work in the next school year, look for about $2 million worth of cleaning and stone maintenance work to Strong Hall, $1.2 million of improvements to the Lewis Hall dormitory, and nearly $3 million worth of reconstruction work on various KU parking lots, including Lots 61 and 72.

In other news, the Regents received a series of recommendations from the state’s Commission for Racial Equity and Justice. Shannon Portillo, a Douglas County commissioner and an associate dean at KU, is a co-chair of the commission and was part of a group that delivered recommendations related to higher education. Among the recommendations are:

• Place more of an emphasis on social bias training at the Kansas Law Enforcement and Training Center, which is run by KU. The group also recommended greater racial diversity of instructors at the training center.

• Adopt universal equity language policies at universities, which would spell out how universities will effectively communicate with non-English speakers.

• Advocate for changes in the state system that trains and prepares students to be teachers. Tiffany Anderson, superintendent of Topeka Public Schools, told the board that the amount of time student teachers are required to work without pay at schools as part of their training can be a deterrent to entering the teaching profession.

• Remove the cap on the number of hours a student at a community college can transfer over to a four-year college.

• Examine ways that more college courses can be provided to people who are incarcerated in the state’s jails and prison system.


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