WKU spends over $47,000 on office renovations

Rebekah Alvey

Amid the ongoing budget concerns and rising tuition at WKU, the university recently spent over $47,000 on a staff office renovation.

Between December 2018 and early January of this year, WKU spent $47,364.87 in renovating space for the General Counsel’s office, according to records provided to the Herald by the university.

In 2017, WKU began addressing a significant budget shortfall driven by declining enrollment and reductions in state funding for higher education. To stabilize the budget, the university has implemented strategies, including cutting scores of staff positions, using department carry forward money, increasing tuition and reviewing academic programs for potential elimination.

The office currently houses General Counsel Deborah Wilkins, Assistant General Counsel Andrea Anderson and Executive Legal Assistant and part-time instructor Lauren Ossello.

In 2013, alumni relations staff moved into the Augenstein Alumni Center from the Craig Alumni Center, which was renamed the Craig Administrative Center. In 2014, the Craig Administrative Center became home to the president’s office, which moved from suite 125 of the Wetherby Administration Building.

Due to these changes, the General Counsel’s office, which was also located in suite 125 of WAB, was also relocated to CAC and the WKU Division of Public Affairs staff moved into suite 125 of WAB.

When Robbin Taylor, then vice president for public affairs, moved into the former president’s office in Wetherby in 2014, the move cost $8,321.50 for construction on the office to “better fit their needs,” WKU Director of Media Relations Bob Skipper said.

Construction included a wall to provide better access to a restroom and shared kitchen. The space was also painted and refurbished, which totaled $7,011 in additional costs.

In late 2018, WKU President Timothy Caboni decided to rearrange offices. The director of government and community relations and executive administrative assistant positions were moved to CAC. The vice president of strategic communication and marketing will move to the building as well as soon as the position is filled.

This meant the General Counsel’s office would be relocated to suite 125 in WAB, where it was previously located.

In a meeting with the Herald editorial board on Jan. 18, Caboni said he decided to rearrange who was located in CAC to better fit the functions of his job.

“Given the centrality of strategic communications, marketing and government relations to my daily activity, it made more sense for those functional areas to be near me in the Craig Administrative Center than in a different building,” Caboni said.

He said the General Counsel’s office is still nearby in Wetherby. However, he added, “symbols also matter.”

The General Counsel’s office renovations in WAB suite 125 totaled $47,364.87 in costs for construction, new carpet and new paint and furniture for three full-time employees, one part-time employee and a reception area, according to the total expended invoice for the project.

Included in the furniture purchases were three desks priced at $1,700 each and one desk with overhead storage priced at $2,600, according to project tracking estimates and expenses obtained through a records request. Other purchases included a loveseat priced at $1,800, lamps, art, decor and new window blinds for a total of $1,000 and a credenza priced at $1,200.

Information on purchase costs for the office renovations were obtained through an open records request made on Feb. 5, 2019.

In an email, Wilkins declined to comment on behalf of Andrea Anderson and herself about the relocation of the office or associated expenditures. Wilkins stated they had no information to contribute other than what had already been provided by other campus officials.

Skipper said during the move, all furniture used in the previous CAC general counsel office stayed for public affairs staff. The furniture used in the previous public affairs office in WAB, to which the General Counsel was relocated, was redistributed throughout public affairs, and one desk was sent to surplus.

Skipper said this left no furniture in the new General Counsel office in WAB. He said the furniture which was redistributed through public affairs replaced older furniture, which could’ve been 20 to 30 years old. The former public affairs office in WAB was used by three staff members.

When asked if there were any efforts made to reduce costs, Skipper said everything was purchased under state contract or state listing prices. He added that all normal purchasing procedures were followed.

Skipper said all furniture purchases made for the General Counsel office complied with the government price contract, which is a contract negotiated by state or federal government. Once negotiated, the contracts are made

available to government entities and can be purchased without bidding.

In 2013, WKU spent almost $49,500 to renovate the Potter College dean’s office, located in the Ivan Wilson Fine Arts Center. This renovation included the dean’s office and reception area. Overall reception furniture was purchased for $7,834. Guest chairs were purchased for $830 and a task chair was purchased for $432, according to purchase order records provided by WKU.

During the 2012-13 academic year, WKU enrollment was 21,124, the highest ever, according to data published by the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education. For the current academic year, enrollment has dropped to 19,461.

Wilkins’ employment contract, which was initially signed by then-President Gary Ransdell in 2013 for a four-year period and now renews annually until 2022, addresses the stature of her office.

In the case of a reassignment, Wilkins must be assigned to a position consistent with her education and experience and “be provided with an office appropriate for the position, consistent with her education and experience and located on the main campus,” according to her contract.

The Herald obtained Wilkins’ contract through an open records request filed on Sept. 5, 2018.

Two other recent office moves resulted in few expenditures.

Provost Terry Ballman came to WKU in August 2018 at the same time Corinne Murphy became the dean of the College of Education and Behavioral Sciences. In both of these office transitions, Bob Skipper said there were no projects or renovations completed by the Department of Facilities Management.

In an email, Skipper said the CEBS dean’s office has not been renovated since the building opened in 2010. He said the provost’s office was last renovated when Barbara Burch was serving as provost. Burch served as provost from 1996-2010.

Skipper said the current provost office looks just as it did when former Provost David Lee was in the office. Lee served as provost from August 2015 to August 2018.

News Editor Rebekah Alvey can be reached at 270-745-6011 and [email protected]. Follow Rebekah Alvey on Twitter at @bekah_alvey.