Regents question ‘dead space’ in buildings on WKU’s campus

The Board of Regents finance committee meeting approved a recommendation to increase in-state tuition by 2 percent, which would bring 2020 tuition to $5,401.

Nicole Ziege

The College Heights Foundation is moving to a new location this summer, sparking controversy from several at a Board of Regents meeting about underutilized space in WKU’s buildings and leading to a future review of building space on campus.

The foundation, which provides more than $5 million in scholarships at WKU, will relocate from its temporary home in the Mahurin Honors College and International Center to a 6,300-square-foot home previously owned by John and Susan Minton appraised for $1.35 million.

The Minton property, which will be renamed the Cliff Todd Center, was built in 1898 and completely remodeled in 1992. The property was appraised for $1.35 million and cost the foundation $950,000, with the Minton family gifting the difference, Donald Smith, president of the College Heights Foundation, said in an email.

“Minor renovations will be done to the home in the coming weeks such as adding a ramp for accessibility at the front steps, improving the lighting in the rooms to be conducive for the transition from a home to an office environment, installing fiber network for information technology, and painting some select interior spaces,” Smith said.

Smith said the foundation anticipates the total costs of renovations to total between $100,000 and $150,000, and relocation will take place in May or June this year.

When Smith and Brad Wheeler, assistant vice president of business services, proposed the purchase of the Minton property at the Board of Regents committee meeting on Feb. 8, Regent Julie Hinson asked if there was already space available on campus for the foundation. Hinson called attention to WKU’s 10-year strategic plan and its goal of “promoting sustainable practices and efficiently using campus resources.”

In the meeting, Hinson said there is a lot of empty, underutilized space available in HCIC and the Augenstein Alumni Center, referring to the underutilized space as “dead space” and calling it a “morgue.”

The Alumni Center houses the WKU Alumni Association and the WKU Foundation, a nonprofit that had about $73 million in investments in 2017. It was completed and dedicated in 2013, and the HCIC building was completed and dedicated in 2015.

“At this point, I think all of those discussions are still happening at a foundation level of what that looks like, how do we create efficiencies for the institution as a whole,” Smith said during the meeting.

In addressing Hinson’s concern, President Timothy Caboni said a master plan of how to use the space in WKU’s facilities more effectively will be worked on in the future.

“As an institution, we have to be more intentional about our space usage,” Caboni said. “I have questions about how we’re using lots of places on campus.”

Bob Skipper, WKU’s director of media relations, said the idea for a review of WKU’s buildings was proposed during the meeting, and it has not officially gotten off the ground.

The College Heights Foundation’s offices were housed in the College Heights Foundation Building on campus after the facility was built in 1969, but they were temporarily moved to HCIC in August 2017.

“Many of the buildings constructed in that era were designed to have a half century life expectancy, so the [foundation’s] building needed significant attention to enhance its useful life,” Smith said in the email.
Smith said the foundation intended to use a $1 million donation from Cliff Todd, a 1950 WKU alumnus, to renovate the foundation’s building. However, after structural engineers analyzed the building, the probable cost of the renovations to the building increased from $1.6 million to $2.1 million, exceeding the foundation’s project budget.

“In consultation with the WKU Department of Planning, Design, and Construction, we determined that the building and its systems had outlived their useful life expectancy, and it was not prudent to invest such a large amount in a renovation of this aging facility,” Smith said.

Smith said the College Heights Foundation also explored the option of tearing down the old building and building a new facility in its place. However, as architectural plans were developed, the costs of the project also exceeded its projected budget, causing the College Heights Foundation Board of Directors to seek an alternative option.

“We have been grateful for the space afforded to us in the Honors College and International Center during this transition,” Smith said. “The relocation was originally was [sic] supposed to be only for one year, so we appreciate the extra time we have been given until our more permanent home could be established.”

John Sunnygard, associate provost for global learning and international affairs, said he did not know yet what the space in HCIC will be used for after the College Heights Foundation is relocated.

News reporter Nicole Ziege can be reached at 270-745-6011 and [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at @NicoleZiege.

Editor’s note: A former version of this story said the WKU Foundation is a part of the WKU Alumni Association when it is not. The WKU Foundation is located in the Alumni Center. The Herald regrets this error.