The University of Kentucky Board of Trustees spent Friday, the first day of its annual retreat, contemplating the university's future, both physical and academic.
Trustees got their first look at the proposed master plan for campus, which emphasizes more green space, many fewer cars and better connections to downtown.
"I think it's really exciting," said trustee Barbara Young, a Lexington resident. "I'm glad to see all the new landscaping, the way they're looking at the whole picture."
On Saturday, the board will hold an official meeting to vote on the principles of the campus plan, which include sustainability, better mobility on campus and better relationships with adjoining neighborhoods, which have had an uneasy time with UK's spillover growth.
Although the trustees seemed largely happy with the plan, there was plenty of discussion, particularly about traffic. One of the major themes of the plan is a campus where parking occurs largely along the edges, aided by a new bus terminal and parking garage near Commonwealth Stadium.
"These streets have become dysfunctional," said President Eli Capilouto. "A good model is more parking on the periphery, but you still have to move people, and you have to move them quickly. Right now you get on a bus and you sit in traffic."
Part of that proposal could include closing Rose Street from Columbia Avenue to Huguelet Drive and turning it into a pedestrian mall. Rose is already closed off from South Limestone near the medical center.
The plan would divide the campus into zones; for example, North Campus would have housing for older students and better connections along Limestone to downtown, while Central Campus would have a new student center near the Kirwan Blanding complex.
The plan does not have dates or price tags on it because it's extremely long-term and could be implemented in pieces, explained Bob Wiseman, vice president for facilities. For example, as part of the plan called "Greek Town," between Rose, Euclid and Woodland, there's a proposed possibility: UK would buy all the property on the currently residential Transylvania Park and turn those houses into sorority chapter houses. UK now owns no property on Transylvania, and many of the houses are historic, so the price tag would be significant.
One piece of the plan already underway is a new road around the back of the new Cooperstown dorms which will empty into Alumni Drive.
"Once we have that road," Wiseman said, which will be finished in a year and a half, "we will have the option of testing traffic patterns."
Part of the big changes on campus are related to new buildings, which have totaled about $615 million in the past two years. Most of the buildings are new residence halls, but a renovation of the business school just got started, and a new science building is planned soon after.
UK is betting on its status as a residential flagship university, a plan that sounds more realistic than last year. At last year's retreat, there was much handwringing over massive online open courses (MOOCs), and whether they would have the power to destroy traditional higher education.
In a year, that view has been greatly tempered, said David Attis, a consultant with the Education Advisory Board in Washington, D.C., who is advising UK on the formulation of its five-year strategic plan. The strategic plan focuses less on bricks and mortar, and more on academic planning.
In fact, Attis said, MOOCS are being used more by people who have full-time jobs and want to enrich their degrees with online classes from Harvard or Yale, or by current students who might take one class, but not try to earn an entire degree online.
"The story is not as simple as you go online and give up the physical plant," he said.
Instead, universities have to become more flexible and fast-moving to meet the needs of the marketplace. For example, some schools have started offering professional master's degrees that combine industry needs with traditional research, such as genetic counseling or biotechnology.
Attis said that while many are studying how to control costs and make higher education more efficient, it's a tricky proposition. For example, graduate education costs more to deliver than undergraduate, but its rewards are unique because of the research it produces for communities and the world beyond.
"It's hard to put a dollar value on it," Attis said. "It's part of our social structure that we need institutions that can do this."
UK is facing the same problems as other research universities — a decline in federal funding made worse by sequestration cuts, which could take about 10 percent off UK's research funding in 2014, said Jim Tracy, UK's vice president for research.
UK ranks 59th out of 916 institutions for research funding.
For more information on the UK Master Plan, go to www.uky.edu/EVPFA/Facilities/MasterPlan
Linda Blackford: (859) 231-1359. Twitter: @lbblackford