KU planning to launch its largest ever capital campaign fundraising program; university misses out on $1B federal hydrogen hub grant

photo by: Shawn Valverde/Special to the Journal-World

The University of Kansas campus is pictured in this aerial photo from September 2023.

Thursday may be the beginning of a multibillion-dollar day for the University of Kansas. Look for Chancellor Douglas Girod to make an announcement tomorrow evening that KU is embarking on a new capital fundraising campaign.

KU Endowment is scheduled to host a “campaign kickoff” event Thursday on the KU campus. The association hasn’t said much publicly about the event, but an invitation to the festivities at the Jayhawk Welcome Center says it will feature a launch of the “biggest capital campaign in the history of the University of Kansas and the University of Kansas Health System.”

That means the campaign will have a goal of more than $1.6 billion. That’s how much KU’s “Far Above: The Campaign for Kansas” raised. I expect the fundraising goal to be significantly above that $1.6 billion amount, as the Far Above campaign was awhile ago. It was completed in 2016, and was touted at the time as the largest higher education fundraising effort in the state’s history.

We will see what details KU leaders announce tomorrow, but I suspect the campaign will be tied into the KU campus’ relatively new strategic plan, called “Jayhawks Rising.” That strategic plan has three broad categories: Student Success, Healthy and Vibrant Communities, and Research and Discovery.

Among some of the specific priorities in that plan are efforts to increase KU’s enrollment, programs to reduce student debt of future KU graduates, a greater emphasis on attracting international students, improvement in diversity, equity and inclusion programs, boosts in employee pay, and continued growth in KU research activities, among others.

Of course, a capital campaign usually results in some big new buildings. The Far Above campaign, for example, helped fund the new business school building, the DeBruce Center that houses the rules of basketball, Slawson Hall in the Central District and several others.

KU certainly has some big building projects underway or on its mind. The Gateway Project to refurbish KU’s football stadium and transform the area around it into a conference center and retail hub is a $300 million-plus project that KU is actively raising money for.

Additionally, work on KU’s West Campus is already underway. That project is building housing and retail space to make the West Campus more of a live-work environment that KU hopes will attract companies that want to be close to KU researchers and students.

Then, there are the projects happening with KU’s medical school. Those are less visible in Lawrence — given the medical school’s location in Kansas City, Kansas — but they are among the biggest projects KU has on its map.

As we’ve reported, KU and Wichita State have entered into a partnership to create a new health services campus in downtown Wichita. That project will provide a new home for medical students in Wichita who are pursuing a degree through KU. The med students will be working side by side with WSU’s nursing students and faculty. KU’s pharmacy school also will have a presence at the Wichita campus.

That project is expected to cost more than $300 million, with construction tentatively scheduled to start early next year. The two schools have announced they’ve raised a little more than $200 million for the project.

Perhaps the biggest project, though, is a planned cancer treatment and research center at the KU Medical Center Campus in Kansas City. KU leaders haven’t said much publicly about how much that project may cost, but indications are it will be well above the $300 million mark of the two projects mentioned above. In fact, it may be more than than those two projects combined.

As we reported in June, KU received a $100 million gift from the Sunderland Foundation for the project, and U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran helped secure $43 million in federal funding for the building. But a more recent indication of the project’s size is that KU will seek $75 million from the Kansas Legislature during the upcoming session next year.

KU is promising to match that $75 million state investment with private fundraising dollars. The Kansas Board of Regents last month gave preliminary approval to include the $75 million request as part of the Regents’ legislative priorities for the next year. The Regents agreed to back the project after Girod said that KU already has heard from “foundations in Kansas City” that are willing to provide the $75 million in matching funds, if the state will invest in the project.

“We believe we have some champions in the Legislature who are willing to carry the water,” Girod said last month of the funding request.

It is a sizable pail to carry. For perspective, the six Regents universities combined are seeking $155 million for capital improvement projects from the Legislature. In other words, KU’s cancer center request is about half of that total. The next closest is a $25 million request from Kansas State, which would be used to help fund a new agriculture innovation center.

The cancer center project is the only building project on KU’s funding request list to the Legislature. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that KU is prioritizing the medical center project. Last year, the KU Cancer Center became just the 53rd cancer center in the country to receive the National Cancer Center’s comprehensive designation. That puts the center in the same category as the Mayo Clinic, M.D. Anderson and other such institutions that attract cancer patients and researchers from across the world.

The proposed cancer center building would provide space to provide new cancer treatments and to house additional cancer researchers, who KU believes will bring hundreds of millions in new cancer research dollars to the university.


A couple of other KU notes:

• While KU is hoping to raise billions from its alumni and supporters, an effort to win about a billion in federal funding for a cutting-edge energy project isn’t yet materializing.

The Biden administration recently announced $7 billion in funding for seven organizations that hope to develop “clean hydrogen hubs” across the country. A group that included KU and its Lawrence-based Kansas Geological Survey submitted a proposal to the White House, but the Kansas plan was not selected.

The KU group, called the Harvest Hydrogen Hub Coalition, was pitching the idea of using solar energy and wind energy to help produce hydrogen, which would then be used as a fuel source for vehicles, to produce fertilizer and to power industry in several ways. The project also proposed using Kansas’ extensive underground salt deposits, which could be a unique way to store gases.

The White House, in makings its announcement of the seven hydrogen hubs that will receive funding, didn’t provide any information on why the Kansas project didn’t make the cut. I’ve got a call in to a leader of the Kansas Geological Survey to find out if the idea may move ahead in other ways. I’ll let you know if I hear more.

The Kansas project called for a partnership with Kansas City-based Black & Veatch engineering, along with NextEra Energy, among others. NextEra has been talking about installing a major solar farm in eastern Douglas County and western Johnson County. I’m not sure how much the idea of a hydrogen hub in the state played into NextEra’s desire to locate a solar project here, but if I hear anything on that front, I’ll let you know.

As for the projects selected, they are a Mid-Atlantic Hydrogen Hub in Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey; an Appalachian Hub in West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania; a California Hub; a Gulf Coast Hub, centered in the Houston region; a Heartland Hub in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota; a Midwest Hub in Illinois, Indiana and Michigan; and a Pacific Northwest Hub in Washington, Oregon and Montana.

• Finally, look for perhaps a couple thousand potential KU students to be roaming around Lawrence on Friday. KU will be hosting its Crimson & Blue Open House. The university is expecting more than 2,000 potential students to be on campus for tours, which start at Allen Fieldhouse and go to classrooms, lab spaces, residence halls and other points of interest on campus.


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