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UK hoping state money will come through for Reynolds Building renovation

University of Kentucky officials have their fingers crossed that $16.2 million to renovate the 100-year-old Reynolds Building will survive in the state budget.

The House version of the budget included close to $500 million to replace some of the state's oldest and most inadequate school buildings. Modernizing the long-neglected Reynolds Building was one of the projects.

The budget still has to survive possible changes as it goes through the Senate. A final budget is not likely to be approved until mid-April.

The much-loved but dilapidated Reynolds Building on the west side of campus is home to the art department faculty and student studios.

UK's vice president of external affairs, Tom Harris, called Reynolds "probably the worst building in higher education in the state."

Yet its large open spaces and high ceilings give students an opportunity to think big and construct art on a larger scale, professors say.

"We absolutely love this building," said Rae Goodwin, director of the art department foundation. "There are health and safety issues we would like some help in addressing. But it is phenomenal space to be creative in."

The 144,000-square-foot building looks much like the old tobacco processing facility that R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company constructed in 1910.

It was acquired by UK in 1962 and has never been completely renovated.

Looking through double doors into a large studio where a student sawed and sanded a woodworking project, you see an old-fashioned space heater suspended from the rafters. A rusty, commercial-size fan is mounted in a window for cooling.

Window fans fall short of cooling Bobby Scroggins' third-floor office and studio in the summer, when temperatures reach 104 degrees.

Scroggins has worked in the Reynolds Building for 20 years. "Long enough to see the deterioration accelerate," he said. Paint flaking off overhead pipes covers his books, desk and computer. "Probably lead-based," he said.

But move? No way, Scroggins said. "The space is phenomenal. We're very blessed for that."

A feasibility study in 2005 concluded it was more cost-effective to renovate the Reynolds Building than to construct a new arts facility.

The Reynolds Building is included in about a 5-acre tract bounded by Bolivar, South Broadway and Scott Street that UK hopes to redevelop with a boutique hotel, some housing, retail, restaurants and public spaces.

But with the economic slowdown, developers are "not real active right now," said Bob Wiseman, UK vice president of facilities management.

The state of deterioration of the Reynolds Building demanded UK take immediate steps to renovate it.

An updated building will help UK as it competes with schools across the country to recruit the best students and faculty, Wiseman said. "Facilities where they will work is a big issue."

Plans call for new wiring, plumbing, bathrooms and floors. A new central air conditioning, heating and ventilation system will be installed, as well as a handicap-accessible elevator.

Exterior windows will be replaced, but the outside will look about the same, Wiseman said. "We want to keep the feel of the building, but update it."

Renovation will be done a section at a time. A smaller warehouse next door will be used for studio and teaching space as needed.

Bill Harris, in purchasing, said UK is prepared to start work on the project immediately. Work is expected to take 18 months.

"We're very appreciative the state put the Reynolds Building in the budget," said Harris. "We hope the Senate will keep the funding for it."