Campus construction continues with completion of restaurant

Hilltopper Hall, the newest residence hall project at WKU, is power washed by a construction worker in the valley on August 19, 2017.

Emma Collins

WKU students have a summer full of construction to thank for the new on-campus restaurant that opened today next to Pearce Ford Tower.

With the completion of The Den by Denny’s, the university now has more than 20 restaurants on campus. The Den replaced Popeyes and Freshens, which until this summer were located next to each other in the Tower Food Court.

Chief facilities officer Bryan Russell said the completion of the restaurant in a few months was impressive.

“It’s outstanding, that in an extremely short period of time, to go from no plans at all to fully getting it designed, getting the work scheduled and getting the work completed,” Russell said.

The construction for The Den began at the end of last semester when Popeye’s closed and moved out of the building, Russell said. The building then underwent a complete renovation to make room for the new restaurant.

WKU’s planning, design and construction staff also oversaw the construction of several of the campus’ other major projects, all of which will continue to undergo construction throughout this semester.

Russell said Ogden College Hall, which sits on the site of the old Thompson Complex North Wing, remains on schedule to open this December. Faculty and staff will move into their offices over the upcoming winter break and the building will open for classes next spring semester.

“It’s beautiful inside,” Russell said of the $48 million building. “It’s really cool.”

After the completion of Ogden College Hall, construction will begin on Thompson Complex Center Wing. Russell said the construction will include replacing the roof and windows and renovating the fourth floor to allow for other departments to move into the space. Classes originally scheduled to be held in the Center Wing next semester will be relocated until the work has been completed.

Russell said WKU has yet to select a construction company to renovate the Center Wing, but he expects the bidding process for the job to begin around September or October.

Construction on Hilltopper Hall, the new residence hall next to Rhodes Harlin Hall, also continued over the summer. Russell said the construction remains on schedule, and he expects the building to be “dried in” by winter, meaning the roof will be covered and the exterior walls and windows will be in place. The building is scheduled to be completed and open for the fall 2018 semester.

In a previous article, the Herald reported on complaints students had about the noise caused by the construction of Hilltopper Hall. To compromise, WKU requested the construction company to wait on beginning work until 7 a.m. and to halt all construction during finals week. Russell said students can still expect to hear some noise, but it will not be as loud as last semester.

“Noise usually comes from the site work and the site work is in a stage that it won’t be that noisy,” Russell said. “That’s not to say it won’t be noisy, but on a college campus it’s like trash trucks and deliveries, all that starts before daylight.”

Two other residence halls, Northeast and Southwest Halls, remain under construction.

Russell said both halls were originally built as one-story buildings; however, as the campus grew, more floors were added to accommodate the increasing number of students. The wings of each building were never connected. To reach the same floor in the other wing, students had to go down to the first floor lobby before climbing the stairs to the other wing.

Elevators have also been added to make the halls more accessible for all students. Southwest Hall’s lobby has already opened, and Northeast Hall’s lobby will open the first week of September. Russell said all the floors in both dorms will be open for fall break.

The construction on Northeast and Southwest Halls and the construction of the new Hilltopper Hall are all part of Housing and Residence Life’s 10-year housing plan. As part of the plan, Southwest Hall became Honors College housing this fall, and Northeast Hall will house international students starting in the fall 2018 semester. The housing plan also includes the demolition of Barnes-Campbell Hall in 2018 and Bemis Lawrence Hall 2019.

Brian Kuster, vice president for academic affairs, could not be reached for comment about the construction on Northeast, Southwest and Hilltopper Hall.

The final large on-campus project currently under construction is Parking Structure 3 in the Creason Lot. Russell said construction on the seven-story structure will be completed at the end of September. PS3 will have 679 parking spaces.

The parking structure was originally supposed to have only six floors and between 500 and 600 spots. Russell said extra funding allowed for the addition of another floor and 100 more parking places.

Director of Parking and Transportation Services Jennifer Tougas said the structure will be designated as “OZ,” or overflow zone, when it opens. An overflow zone provides parking for main campus permits.

Tougas also said once PS3 opens, campus residents who purchased a South Campus parking pass will be able to buy an H9 parking permit and park in the new structure. PTS will also open the garage to commuters with C1 permits, and if space remains, to commuters with C2 permits who currently park at South Campus.

“By spring semester at the latest, all students wishing to park on main campus will be able to,” Tougas said in an email.

In addition to the construction on larger projects, Russell said students can expect to see minor projects happening around campus. Most of the construction scheduled for the summer has been completed; however, Russell said a few small projects remain. Some of the exterior of Tate Page Hall still needs work, and work always need to be done on the underground infrastructure.

Russell said summer is the ideal time for construction because most students do not live on campus then, but construction cannot be halted just because school resumes. He said construction can never really stop, even though it may be inconvenient at times.

“I think in some way all construction projects affect students, but we have to continue to make improvements to the campus,” Russell said.

An upcoming project is the renovation of the Garrett Conference Center. Russell said the building was built in 1951 and needs repairs. He said WKU did not receive authorization to begin work on the conference center until July 1, when funding from Aramark became available. The project has not been designed yet, and it has not been decided if the building will be torn down or just renovated. Russell said the bidding process for the job will, hopefully, begin this September.

Russell said he also plans on reaching out to the Student Government Association to receive student input about the building. He said he has yet to reach out to SGA, however, he plans to contact them soon.

Reporter Emma Collins can be reached at 270-745-6011 or [email protected].