Regents give go-ahead for four major building projects


Makaio Smith

The design for the New Hilltopper field house, inspired by Southern Methodist University

Makaio Smith, Staff Writer

The WKU Board of Regents gave the green light to four major construction projects during the special budget meeting on Friday.

The projects regents unanimously authorized in their special meeting are:

– A new indoor practice facility for WKU athletics, called Hilltopper Fieldhouse, at up to $35 million.

– Renovating and “reimagining” the iconic Cherry Hall for up to $30 million.

– Renovating the football stadium’s 1960s-era  press box for up to $6 million.

– Moving forward with the state-funded new building for the Gordon Ford College of Business, for $74.4 million.

“We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity for the institution,” WKU President Timothy Caboni said. “… “We have the most beautiful campus … in the Commonwealth, and we’re going to continue to maintain that.”

“This is the first time … we’re not fighting budget reductions and actually have resources available to invest.”

Caboni said the projects that include WKU funding – all but the Gordon Ford building – could be done without significantly increasing the annual amount WKU pays on debt and without affecting tuition and fee rates.

The Hilltopper Fieldhouse and the press box work will be paid by issuing up to $50 million in bonds to pay for the projects and to refinance existing debt on the 2002 renovation of Diddle Arena.

Most of the cost of renovating Cherry Hall will come from money the Kentucky General Assembly set aside for “asset preservation” on the WKU campus – money that WKU must match at a 15% rate to renovate and repair existing campus buildings and infrastructure. WKU got $34 million in each of the coming two years from the state for such projects.

The business college building, to be built on the site of the demolished Tate Page Hall adjacent to South Lawn, will be paid entirely by the state.

Here’s a look at each of the projects:

Hilltopper Fieldhouse

The new Hilltopper Fieldhouse was described as a first-class indoor training facility that will host 16 WKU sports. This fieldhouse will also be utilized to other campus groups including esports teams, intramural sports and will also include a new home for the WKU Forensics team. There will be a field manager to organize the usage of the facility.

This fieldhouse will also be a permanent indoor practice facility for the Big Red Marching Band to use whenever South Lawn, their current practice space, is unavailable for use. 

The fieldhouse is predicted to overlap the available green space, the baseball clubhouse and hitting facility. The fieldhouse will house an indoor baseball clubhouse and hitting facility.

The design for the new facilities was inspired by Southern Methodist University. This project is estimated to cost $32 million to $35 million. Construction is predicted to start the summer of 2023 and be a 15- to 18-month project.

“It will enable our athletes that are here to train in a way they can’t right now when weather becomes an issue,” Todd Stewart, WKU athletics director, said during the meeting. “I think it will bring athletics and the student body together in a way that we don’t right now.”

Stewart envisions that this facility will also offer an opportunity to drive enrollment at WKU, by being able to bring people to the campus that could have potentially not come. One of the ways Stewart envisions this is local high school programs being able to practice in the facility. 

Press box renovation  

An estimated $4 million to $6 million renovation for the press box in the Houchens Industries-L.T. Smith Stadium. 

The current structure was originally constructed in 1968 and is not accessible to people with mobility issues: 

  • No elevator.
  • Only one restroom. 
  • No air conditioning or heat.
  • Requires coaching staff and broadcast technicians to climb the upper deck bleacher seating to access the press box. 

These things create safety concerns for students, media personnel and coaching staff.

With WKU football’s move to the Football Bowl Subdivision, the team’s games have received more national media coverage, which helped push the need for this press box renovation. 

“This will be a huge step forward from an image standpoint but also an efficiency standpoint,” Stewart said. 

The construction for the press box renovation will not start until after the 2023 football season and is predicted to be finished by the 2024 football season.

Cherry Hall asset preservation

The goal of the Cherry Hall asset preservation is to fully evaluate and renovate the 1937 building, Russell said. This evaluation is also meant to see what needs to be done to Cherry Hall to preserve it for the next 30 to 50 years.

This project is estimated to cost $30 million. Most of the project – 85% – is funded by the state while the other 15% will be funded by WKU, or about $4.5 million.

Likening it to the renovation of Margie Helm Library into The Commons at Helm Library, Caboni said: “I guarantee you, we’re also going to transform Cherry Hall, to preserve it for another several generations of students, faculty and staff.”

There also will be improvements in access to the building for those with mobility issues, said Bryan Russell, WKU’s chief facilities officer. 

New Gordon Ford College of Business

 The building will be constructed on the space where Tate Page Hall once stood. The budget for this project is $74.7 million. WKU has hired Gensler Architects, who oversaw the Commons project, to design the new business building.

WKU’s goals are to complete the design and start construction on July 1, 2023, and to open the facility by the 2025 fall semester, Russell said. 

“A great college of business deserves a great place to do its business,” Caboni said. “We’re going to have a space that the entire institution can be proud of and most importantly we’re going to create a space that serves our students and increases their success.”

The fiscal year 2023 budget was approved in an unanimous vote by the regents. 

“This is no longer my budget … ,” Caboni said. “ This is our budget as an institution and that kind of attention to this as a tool for growth I think serves as well going forward.” 


Makaio Smith can be reached at [email protected].