Letter to the Editor: save the Industrial Education Building

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H.T. Leeper

I believe the campus community is aware of the 20-year contract signed by former President [Gary] Ransdell with Food Services at Western Kentucky University. The agreement was for Food Services to renovate Garrett Conference Center as part of a complete upgrade of the food court on campus.

While renovating Garrett Conference Center was the initial agreement, the scope of the project has changed dramatically. The Campus Planning Committee, in consultation with Food Services, now recommends that Garrett Conference Center be demolished and the Garrett footprint converted to campus green space. The committee also recommended that the Industrial Education Building (IEB) be demolished to make way for an easily accessible unloading zone for the new food services facility that is to be built over top of the gated parking lot adjacent to IEB.

The Campus Planning Committee/Food Services has determined it is more economical to demolish two buildings and build a new food court rather than remodeling Garrett Conference Center. In addition, Food Services has a major issue with trailer trucks backing-up into Garrett for delivery of food product.

The initial plan was to demolish IEB this May and to begin construction of the new food court in summer of 2018. A team of individuals from a major construction firm in Bowling Green was asked to help Architectural and Manufacturing Sciences remove equipment from the Woods Processing facility in IEB to the Environmental Sciences and Technology Building during the last two weeks of May. Upon the initial visit of the construction team, they could not believe that IEB was to be demolished in view of its apparent structural integrity! The Campus Planning Committee supported demolition of both buildings without fully vetting the impact of tearing-down IEB on classes and labs taught in IEB and the necessity of finding new space for instruction and student learning elsewhere in Ogden College.

After several months of controversy regarding the demolition of IEB, a committee from Ogden College was asked to make recommendations regarding the impact of losing classroom and laboratory space in IEB directly affecting programs in the newly formed SEAS School (School of Engineering and Applied Sciences). In January, Dean [Cheryl] Stevens offered committee recommendations from Ogden College to the Campus Planning Committee for other options to be considered rather than taking down IEB.

Please understand that the dean’s report was made after the Campus Planning Committee had already reached a decision to raze both Garrett Conference Center and Industrial Education.

It has been stated that IEB requires more attention than any other structure on campus. I simply do not agree with that premise. Renovations made to IEB, that I am fully aware of, include a new roof, all new windows, new HVAC systems in each room, the formation of two architectural studios and four 20-station computer labs. Information Technology added a major computing hub in the building to support the extensive computing facilities required by Architectural and Manufacturing Sciences. While there was a mold issue in a downstairs classroom, the issue was caused by a major leak around the old HVAC unit serving the classroom.

The unit has now been replaced, and there has never been a mold issue in any other portion of the building. This month, I asked what is going to take place regarding the planned demolition of IEB and Garrett Conference Center. I was told that no decision has been made. Even so, I learned that the gated lot adjacent to IEB will be partially, or fully closed, for the fall 2018 semester to begin construction of the new food court, while officially, no decision has been made!

In closing, I personally do not agree with [getting rid of] the two viable structures on campus to make way for a new food court. I firmly believe in repurposing structures over time. I specifically disagree with destroying the Industrial Education Building on campus because it is one of the original historical stone structures on campus. The Industrial Education Building was built in 1928 under the direction of L. T. Smith who was the original founder of the Architectural and Manufacturing Sciences Department in 1920. I have taught in IEB for the last 39 years as a faculty member and served as department head for 13 years. I personally know of the structural integrity of the IEB and its ongoing value in support of instruction and student learning.

I have a major issue with the fees scheduled by food services that will raise the per-semester cost from $75 dollars to $350 over the next few years for students who do not purchase a meal plan on campus. The per-semester fee will ultimately cover the cost of the new food court on the backs of students who do not wish to purchase, or cannot afford to purchase, a meal plan. At the recent Board of Regents meeting, the board is considering limiting the power of the university president, within reason, to sign a long-term agreement with an external agency.

The Board of Regents asked President Caboni to look into the current contract signed by former President Ransdell with Food Services. If Western is going to honor the agreement with Food Services, then Food Services ought to be held to renovating Garrett Conference Center as initially proposed. It is interesting that food services, on campus, would take priority over vital instructional resources at Western!