Coming from Coal Money

New Wildcat Lodge OK'd

amead@herald-leader.comOctober 28, 2009 

  • Who's behind Wildcat Coal Lodge?

    Here are the people — the Difference Makers — that the University of Kentucky said have signed pledge sheets for the Wildcat Coal Lodge project as of Monday: Armstrong Land, Charles Baird, Charles Bradley, Nick Carter, David Childs, Joe Craft, Luther Deaton, Ted Doheny, Franklin Farris, L.D. Gorman, Mike Jones, Lynn Parrish, C.L. Redmond, Rex Smith, Tom Smith, Tom Snyder, Jeff Speaks, Wellford A. Tabor, Greg Wells, Charlie Wesley and Lyle Wolf.

A proposal to build a $7 million Wildcat Coal Lodge was approved Tuesday by the University of Kentucky Board of Trustees in a 16-3 vote.

The vote set off shouts from about 30 protesters, mostly students, who attended the meeting.

"Big Coal is about to go down, and the university's going down with them," said Cor de Jong, who described himself as "a Lexingtonian and a basketball fan."

Others yelled "You're leaving Kentucky behind, one more time," and "I'm transferring."

A statement from students — which stated that the proposal "unnecessarily politicizes the UK men's basketball program" — was passed out to board members moments before the vote but apparently was ignored.

"They did not read our statement," said Katie Goldey, a senior majoring in international studies. "They weren't even given a chance to read it."

After UK legal counsel Barbara Jones suggested the board take a recess while students expressed their concerns and criticisms, most of the board and UK President Lee T. Todd Jr. retreated to a back room.

Seven trustees stayed to listen, including the three who voted against the resolution and four who voted for it: Jo Hern Curris, Everett McCorvey, Dermontti Dawson and Billy Joe Miles.

Todd said after the meeting that he went along with Jones' suggestion that "the best way to calm down" tensions was to recess and leave for a bit. But he said the students made their points.

"They said a lot," Todd said. "They were heard."

The new Wildcat Coal Lodge, to be paid for by donors who have pledged $7 million, will replace the Joe B. Hall Wildcat Lodge, which houses the men's basketball team and a few other students.

Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart said earlier that the university wants to find some way to honor Hall, a former UK basketball coach, at the new lodge, but details have not been worked out.

The new building has spawned controversy centered on putting the word coal in the building's name. It even got national attention, and ridicule, Monday night on MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show.

In a development that Todd described as "somewhat ironic," the new lodge will be one of the most environmentally friendly buildings on campus.

Because it will cost more than $5 million, university policy requires that it meet the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standards. Bob Wiseman, the university's vice president of facilities, said that probably means it will take more advantage of natural light and will use recycled materials as much as possible.

Wiseman said he did not know whether it would have a fireplace made of coal, as the current lodge does. "This has not been discussed at that level yet," he said.

The lodge will be UK's second LEED-certified building. The first is the Davis Marksbury Building, under construction next door to the parking lot where the new Wildcat Lodge will be built.

At a trustees' finance committee meeting before the full board met, Barnhart said the university decided late last year not to spend $1.5 million refurbishing the current lodge. The building is more than 30 years old, and "it became fairly apparent that was going to be a Band-Aid," to spend the $1.5 million, he said.

When board member C.M. "Bill" Gatton asked what would become of the current lodge, Todd said it would "go into the housing inventory."

Asked by a reporter whether the building that was deemed inadequate for basketball players would be used to house other students, Todd said the current lodge would have to be evaluated before any decision was made.

Gatton, for whom UK's College of Business is named, noted that the university's long-term plans call for a new business college building next door to the current lodge.

Todd said the lodge would not interfere with those plans.

The proposal for the new lodge came from Joe Craft, the head of Alliance Coal, who has his name on a basketball practice facility. He put together 20 other people called the Difference Makers to come up with the money.

The three board members who voted against the proposal were Ernest Yanarella, a faculty representative; Robynn Pease, the staff representative; and Ryan M. Smith, the student representative.

Yanarella failed in an attempt to refer the matter to attorneys to determine whether putting coal in the building's name violated the university's regulations. He said he was fond of Maker's Mark bourbon but wouldn't want bourbon or whiskey on a UK building.

"It strikes me that this would set a precedent of identifying an industry with a piece of university property," he said.

Pease, who called the name "a step backward," also mentioned that the phrase "wildcat coal" referred to outlaw mining operations.

Several board members spoke in favor of the name. Gatton talked about Kentucky's low electric rates from coal-fired generating plants.

"I think if everyone had a higher electric bill, they would vote for this move," he said.

Herald-Leader Staff Writer Ryan Alessi contributed to this article.

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