For 50 years, the Kirwan Blanding complex — its towering twin towers looming over the south side of campus — were among the University of Kentucky’s most iconic images.
But those icons can no longer provide the housing spaces that students desire, so they are being demolished.
On Tuesday, the UK Board of Trustees approved a plan to demolish the entire complex, which includes the two 23-story towers and eight low-rise buildings that are tucked amid gentle rises and trees. UK officials said the nearly 13 acres will become campus green space, and they were quick to say that the towering canopy of oak trees, planted in 1969, will remain.
The demolition is estimated to cost about $15 million, compared to a $126 million estimate for renovation to modern standards, which include private bedrooms and bathrooms.
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“Ninety-three percent of our freshman have never shared a room, so the demand just isn’t there,” said Penny Cox, UK’s housing project implementation director. “There are very few students who want to live in those kinds of buildings (at Kirwan Blanding).”
She helped envision the nearly 7,000 new private bedrooms (with Tempur Sealy mattresses) in the residence halls that cost $1 billion to construct scattered across campus.
New residence halls have some kitchen facilities in rooms, and much more shared community space for studying and instruction. Most of the new dorms have what are called “living-learning communities,” where, for example, engineering students can live in a shared space.
UK also has built a new dining area at The 90, directly across from the W.T. Young Library, to replace the Kirwan Blanding cafeteria. That complex’s total capacity was about 2,700 students.
Demolition will be complicated, officials said. Directly underneath the complex is a series of utility tunnels. Those will all have to be rerouted, which could happen as soon as next year. Then asbestos abatement must occur before demolition can begin.
After about $5 million is spent on landscaping, there could be recreational green space for students by 2020, Cox said. Officials also plan to plant more oak trees along University Avenue next to the new University Flats residence halls.
Built in 1967, the Kirwan Blanding complex was designed by Edward Durell Stone, a pioneer of modernist architecture, who also designed the Gallery of Modern Art in New York and the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. He also designed the Capital Plaza tower in Frankfort, which the state also plans to demolish.
“The university is moving rather intentionally to create better housing and learning spaces, and more green spaces,” UK spokesman Jay Blanton said.
Trustees did not discuss the proposed demolition, except for a joking motion for a moment of silence for the tower complex. “It served us for a long, long time,” said trustee Robert Grossman.
The board also approved putting up for sale the Commonwealth Village Graduate Housing Complex. The 1963 complex, along Nicholasville Road, has been vacant since September 2017, when the university converted Roselle Hall into graduate housing.
The Fayette Property Valuation Administrator has assessed the complex’s value at $7 million, although it could be sold for more. The proceeds would be used to update graduate housing at the Greg Page Apartment Complex near the Arboretum.