The University of Kentucky campus will boom this summer — literally — as eight buildings are torn down to make way for new construction.
It will cost UK $4 million to demolish the dorms and classroom buildings. Some of them are historic, some iconic, including the oval-shaped Wenner-Gren Research Laboratory, which housed UK's early aeronautic research, and Hamilton House, which was built in 1880.
Several of the buildings were designed by UK's preeminent architect, Ernst Johnson, a champion of the mid-century modern style.
The demolition has been a controversial subject between UK and Lexington preservationists, with numerous pleas from the Bluegrass Trust for Historic Preservation for UK to recognize the architectural heritage of many of the marked buildings.
Bob Wiseman, UK's vice president for facilities, said the school does its best to save historic buildings when possible, but aging and defunct dorms hurt student recruitment and retention.
"It's based on critical analysis; our central core has to be walkable, and we can't expand outward, so very small buildings are in danger of being removed," he said. "The residence halls on north campus didn't accommodate the modern living and learning communities that we are trying to provide."
The demolition will be split between two areas of campus. Donovan Hall, Wenner-Gren and a food services building will make way for a $100 million science building on Rose Street, scheduled to open in fall 2016.
On north campus at Euclid Avenue and South Limestone, the wrecking ball will come for Jewell, Boyd, Holmes, and Keeneland residence halls, then Hamilton House, an Italianate former residence designed by architect John McMurtry.
Hamilton House was most recently used as a study center for north campus. In 2013, UK invested $200,000 to renovate the building for that use, but less than a year later officials decided it had to go. UK officials said some of the equipment and most of the furniture would be reused by a study center on south campus.
Replacing those buildings will be two large residence halls — Limestone Park I and II — with a price tag of $84 million. They're part of an ambitious project to put 9,000 new beds on campus in a public-private partnership with Education Realty Trust, which puts up all the equity for construction, then controls the buildings with long-term leases. The new buildings will open for the fall semester of 2016.
The plan has been a major focus for President Eli Capilouto. Two new dorms have opened, and five more — Haggin Hall on Huguelet, Champions Court I and II on Euclid next to Memorial Coliseum, and Woodland Glen I and II on Woodland Avenue near the William T. Young Library — will open late this summer. Next fall, Woodland Glen III, IV, and V will open.
On May 1, the Bluegrass Trust sent letters to all members of the UK Board of Trustees with a last-ditch plea to save the buildings. Executive director Sheila Ferrell said none of the board members responded.
Ferrell said UK's leadership did not respect Kentucky's heritage.
"These historic and architecturally significant campus structures will, without any statement from President Capilouto, be demolished and replaced because the president is committed to 'the transformation of the university's infrastructure,'" Ferrell said. "It is not a goal the Blue Grass Trust for Historic Preservation can respect."
Wiseman said UK does not get credit for saving and renovating Patterson Hall on north campus and Lafferty Hall, another building designed by Johnson.
"We're sensitive to history, we're responsive to our historical buildings in ways that sometimes get overlooked in the larger question," he said.