Described by Vitter as an “exciting, dynamic plan,” the 2014 Campus Master Plan included a slew of proposals built around a core principle that campus should no longer be viewed as binary, with main and west campuses, and instead become a linked triad of north (Jayhawk Boulevard), central and west districts.
The “North District” nomenclature for the traditional academic core on Jayhawk Boulevard has not, thankfully, taken root, but the concept of an “Innovation Way”—a network of modern, dynamic new science structures linking the main, central and west campuses—most definitely did.
KU this spring opened Slawson and Ritchie halls, collectively known as the Earth, Energy & Environment Center, for classes and research in geology, geophysics and petroleum engineering, and on April 25 officially dedicated the dazzling complex.
“This facility is part of not just a physical change that we’re seeing across the campus,” Chancellor Doug Girod said at the grand-opening celebration, “but a physical and design transformation that we’re seeing across the University.”
The EEEC arose from what had been an unsightly parking lot along the east side of Naismith Drive, between Lindley and Learned halls, and Girod reminded the assembled crowd about the breadth of a “long string of changes” that have swept across that neighborhood of campus, including expansion of the School of Engineering complex, the School of Business’ Capitol Federal Hall, complete renovation of Swarthout Recital Hall inside Murphy Hall, and the DeBruce Center adjacent to Allen Field House.
“It was really Bernadette Gray-Little and Jeff Vitter who did the big renew with the University master plan,” Girod says. “They looked forward and said, ‘We’ve got this really exciting stuff going on on West Campus, we’ve got all the wonderful things going on on Jayhawk Boulevard, so how do we make this campus flow?’
“Everything built off that to create the continuity that you see today.”
Two days after EEEC’s grand opening, Girod returned to the same campus neighborhood for yet another grand opening: the new Burge Union. Central District was about to get real.
Eager to move the 2014 master plan from concept to reality, KU construction officials spent spring 2015 sorting through design and construction proposals, and in June 2015 entered into an informal agreement—what University Architect Jim Modig, a’73, describes as an “engagement period”—with Maryland-based Edgemoor Infrastructure & Real Estate and Clark Construction.
The University in late 2015 financed the project by issuing $326 million in bonds through a Wisconsin public financing agency in what’s known as a public-private partnership, or P3. As detailed in a June article in the Lawrence Journal-World, the unusual arrangement, under which KU will make $22 million annual bond payments, drew rebukes from Topeka; although the plan had been closely reviewed by both the Kansas Board of Regents and the Legislative Joint Committee on State Bonding Construction, it had not been reviewed by the full Legislature.
KU proceeded with the P3, officials say, because time was money. A lot of money.
“We figured out a way to put this thing into turbocharged mode,” Reiske says.
“Every day that we delayed this project, it was between $42,000 and $45,000 of lost construction budget.”
KU spokesman Joe Monaco told the Journal-World that Central District financing was not part of the over-spending referenced by Interim Provost Carl Lejuez when Lejuez recently announced the need for $20 million in budget cuts, and construction officials say they acted when they did to lock in a rate that dropped five years off the life of the bonds and saved KU more than $40 million.
With bonds issued and contracts signed in the first week of January 2016, contractors immediately began putting up fencing, demolishing Stouffer Place Apartments and the Burge Union, and working on utilities.
Everything just seemed to explode at that point,” Modig says.
“The heartbeat of this whole project,” in Girod’s estimation, is the 280,000-square-foot Integrated Science Building, home to interdisciplinary research in chemistry, medicinal chemistry, physics, molecular biosciences and related fields. As expected, everything about ISB is state-of-the-art, yet delivered in unexpected ways.
A tiered auditorium has seating for 325 students, yet designers consider it to be more classroom than auditorium. Its white walls are actually whiteboards, and the tiered seats swivel to encourage small-group discussion. The room’s thoughtfulness even extends to comfort for left-handers, with one writing desk on each row designed to accommodate lefties, and three 90-inch monitors halfway up the tiers display video of experiments happening below.
“This is a unique auditorium,” says project architect Donald Gibson, of Edgemoor Infrastructure. “A lot of very knowledgeable, smart people brought their expertise to the table, working very collaboratively with researchers and faculty to bring their ideas to fruition.”
The same can be said for teaching and research laboratories, which feature modular utility rigs, tables and benches that can all be disassembled and rearranged. The laboratories boast 230 fume hoods, specialized plumbing that recirculates “huge amounts” of chilled water needed for experiments, and eco-friendly heat exchangers designed and patented by KU researchers.
Photographs by Steve Puppe. © 2018 KU Alumni Association. All Rights Reserved.