Construction began Monday on the first building at Bluegrass Community and Technical College's new campus on the grounds of what is now Eastern State Hospital, even as a new hospital takes shape farther north along Newtown Pike.
Construction on the new Eastern State Hospital at 1350 Bull Lea Road should be completed by December 2012, and the $28.3 million BCTC building is expected to be ready by spring 2013.
Bulldozers worked Monday on site preparation at the new BCTC campus just before dignitaries including Gov. Steve Beshear, Mayor Jim Gray and Urban League of Lexington president P.G. Peeples held a ceremonial groundbreaking. The new building brings the promise of a better education and a better neighborhood, they said.
At four stories and 92,240 square feet, the new BCTC building will serve about 1,000 students with programs such as computer information technology. The building is the first phase of BCTC's plan to develop the campus along Newtown Pike between Fourth Street and Loudon Avenue. The legislature has not yet financed a second, $100 million segment of the new campus.
At the ceremony, Beshear praised Kentucky's community colleges for making the state's recession-era work force better educated and able to take advantage of developing employment opportunities.
He said that 106,664 students were enrolled in Kentucky community colleges during the past academic year, up 79.5 percent from a decade ago and 18.6 percent from two years ago.
"They didn't just hunker down and hide," Beshear said of Kentucky's community college students, many of whom are at least 10 years older than the average student in a state university. "They realized higher education was a key to their success."
BCTC president Augusta Julian said she was delighted to break ground on "a new facility on a brand-new campus," even though the land itself has been used for 200 years by the nation's second-oldest psychiatric hospital.
As part of a three-way land swap, Eastern State Hospital patients will move a few miles down the street to its new home in the University of Kentucky's Coldstream Research Campus. BCTC will then take over Eastern State's existing campus, and UK will eventually take over BCTC's buildings on the UK campus.
An outline of the $129 million, 300,000-square-foot hospital project is now visible from Newtown Pike. The building's entrance will be off Citation Boulevard, taking vehicles over an elaborate viaduct bridge.
In addition to the main hospital, the new complex will include four smaller patient group homes.
State Rep. Jimmie Lee, D-Elizabethtown, who has long been a champion of the new hospital, said that whenever he drives past the construction site, he thinks: "Can you imagine we're getting that value for $130 million dollars?"