$7 million for UK basketball player dorm would put 'coal' in the name

amead@herald-leader.comOctober 24, 2009 

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    The University of Kentucky Board of Trustees meets at 1 p.m. Tuesday in the board room on the 18th floor of Patterson Office Tower.

Goodbye, Joe B. Hall Wildcat Lodge. Hello, Wildcat Coal Lodge?

A group of donors who have put up $7 million for a new residence for the University of Kentucky men's basketball team have required that "Coal" be its middle name.

On Tuesday, the board of trustees will take up a recommendation from UK President Lee T. Todd Jr. to approve what the agenda item describes as "the request." It already has been approved by the Committee on Naming University Buildings.

The new lodge is planned for what is now a parking lot just northeast of Memorial Coliseum.

UK spokesman Jimmy Stanton said the only donor the school has a formal agreement with is Joseph W. Craft III, who heads Alliance Coal and has given UK money in the past. The Joe Craft Center, a basketball practice facility, is named in his honor.

Craft put together a group of UK supporters called the Difference Makers to come up with the $7 million, Stanton said.

"This is a project that Mr. Craft feels is important and wanted to fund," he said. "The reality is that if this building is not constructed, this pledge will not be fulfilled."

As with other large pledges, Stanton said, the agreement with Craft states what the name of the building will be.

Plans for the basketball players' new home and its unusual name were announced Thursday evening at the end of a student-organized panel discussion about whether coal should continue to be used for heating on campus.

About 20 students signed a petition opposing the name, and some took petitions with them to gather more signatures. Students are expected to attend Tuesday's trustees meeting, hoping to speak against the idea.

Katie Goldey, a senior majoring in international studies and a member of the environmental group Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, said Friday that putting coal in the building's name suggests that the university has a "partnership with coal" that does not represent the feelings of all students.

"I think it shows that Kentucky is not committed to moving forward in terms of energy and new jobs for people in Eastern Kentucky," she said.

David Atwood, a chemistry professor, said he is not anti-coal and thinks it will continue to be an important energy source as the nation moves toward renewable sources.

But, in a time when universities are becoming the models for new energy sources, sticking the word "coal" on such a public building could make it difficult to attract top students and faculty members to the university, he said.

"It looks like the coal industry is trying to make a statement ..." Atwood said. "If the pharmaceutical industry gave the university $7 million, would it allow a 'Wildcat Pharmaceutical Lodge?'"

Steve Gardner, a Versailles consulting engineer who is chairman of the UK Mining Engineering Foundation, said there is nothing wrong with putting "coal" on the building.

"I don't think coal is something for anybody in this state to be ashamed of," he said. "Our heritage is based in coal."

The Joe B. Hall Wildcat Lodge, which opened in 1978, is named for the former head basketball coach who had the job from 1972 to 1985 and who won a national championship in 1978. It originally housed only student-athletes, but other students were added after the NCAA objected.

Hall, who helped raise money for the lodge, has said that a significant amount of the money came from "those coal miners."

According to previous news reports, the lodge has undergone some renovations since the mid-1990s, most recently in 1999 and 2000.

That project required the basketball players to move out of the lodge for a time, but Stanton described them as "minor renovations."

Last December, UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart said that the UK Athletics Association had approved a $1.5 million renovation to the building he described as "a little outdated."

"It's a 30-year-old building ... there are some things that need to be cleaned up," Barnhart said at the time.

Stanton said that money, which also came from private sources, was not spent because it was "a short-term fix."

"The opportunity to add new and modernized student housing is obviously of great benefit to our current residence life needs," he said.

Reach Andy Mead at (859) 231-3319 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3319.

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