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KU eyeing a  million renovation of Watson Library; new centers for student success and wellness also in planning stages | News, Sports, Jobs

KU eyeing a $40 million renovation of Watson Library; new centers for student success and wellness also in planning stages | News, Sports, Jobs

photo by: Journal-World File

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

The University of Kansas hopes to undertake a $40 million renovation of Watson Library, according to a new plan filed with the Kansas Board of Regents.

“It is a building tremendously loved by our alumni,” Dean of Libraries Kevin Smith told the Journal-World on Monday. “They always ask us about Watson and tell us stories about Watson. We know it is an important and iconic building on campus, but the inside doesn’t meet the grandeur of the outside at this point. It needs a pretty general refresh.”

A major renovation of Watson, which is KU’s oldest and largest library, is one of the higher-profile items on a list of new projects KU hopes to add to its five-year capital improvement plan. But it does have company. KU also is seeking to build a $58 million “Wellness Center,” a $30.5 million “Student Success Center” and a $15 million renovation of Robinson Center, which houses multiple gymnasiums and other facilities connected to KU’s Department of Health, Sport and Exercise Sciences.

But whether you are more interested in the books or the gyms, don’t get your heart set on any of the projects just yet. Adding a project to the university’s capital improvement plan is no guarantee that the project will get built. Rather, adding a project to the CIP list is a solid indication that KU leaders will start trying to raise money for a project, either through private donors, the state Legislature or a combination of sources.

Smith said KU already has completed an architectural vision plan for Watson, and is in discussions with KU Endowment and others about how funding for the renovation could be secured. Smith said there was no timeline for the project to proceed, but noted that the 100th anniversary of Watson will be in September of 2024. He said it would be ideal for that anniversary celebration to come amid a fundraising drive for the renovation.

A key selling point for any future renovation will be that most of the interior of the building still dates back to the 1980s or longer. Kelly said the building needed improvements in accessibility, including changes to the main entrance, which currently involves a hike up a steep set of granite stairs. More natural light inside the building also is needed, plus improvements in the general flow of the building, Smith said.

“We need to just generally update spaces to meet the way students work today,” Smith said.

But first, KU leaders need to win a preliminary round of approvals from the Kansas Board of Regents. The Regents at their Wednesday afternoon meeting at Fort Hays State University will get their first look at updated capital improvement plans from all the state’s Regents universities. Those five-year capital improvement plans must be approved and sent to the Kansas Legislature prior to July 1.

Watson Library, the Wellness Center, the Student Success Center and the Robinson Center are all new additions to the list, which includes about $975 million worth of other projects that KU has added over the last five years.

The lists at KU and other state universities tend to become lengthy because if a project is not on the official five-year capital improvement plan it stands no chance of receiving any state funding.

The list of capital improvement projects does not provide many details about the proposed projects. The Journal-World has asked university officials for more details about the Wellness Center, the Student Success Center and Robinson Center projects.

While Watson, the Wellness Center, Student Success and Robinson are the four largest proposed additions to the CIP list, there are more than a dozen other, smaller, more maintenance-oriented projects proposed to be added to the plan. Those include masonry restoration on Budig and Strong halls, heating and cooling improvements at Blake, Learned and Lindley halls, and reconstruction of various KU parking lots.

The plan also includes several huge potential projects that were added in previous years, but remain unbuilt or unfunded. Those include: $198 million for a new integrated science building; $350 million for Memorial Stadium renovations; $22 million for KU’s baseball stadium; $20 million in Allen Fieldhouse renovations and $18 million for a Kansas Union renovation.

The list also includes projects outside of the Lawrence campus. The biggest project KU is seeking to add to the CIP is $225 million for further development of a Law Enforcement Training Center. KU operates the Kansas Law Enforcement Training Center in Hutchinson, and leaders previously have discussed how they would like to enhance that campus.

The list also includes CIP projects for the KU Medical Center in Kansas City, however most of the new projects that KU is seeking to add there are more maintenance oriented this year. The med center campus, though, has some of the largest unbuilt projects on its list from past years. Topping that list is $385 million for an additional cancer research building and $199 million for a “brain health” building.