Education

UK opened its new $200 million student center last year. Why it’s now expanding again.

The University of Kentucky is planning a $25 million project to expand the dining and student support space in its newly-opened Gatton Student Center.

The Board of Trustees approved the plan Friday, UK said in a news release. The university said growing enrollment and “high participation levels in UK meal plans” made the expansion necessary.

The student center reopened last year after a $200 million renovation.

“We constructed the renovated Student Center with the capacity for expansion to meet the needs of students and our campus community as we grow,” Eric Monday, UK’s executive vice president for finance and administration, said in the release. “The Student Center has become the living room of our campus even more quickly than we anticipated. It’s the heartbeat of our campus and has become the central gathering and dining space for much of the community.”

The addition is planned for the east end of the student center, “toward the parking lot and the Singletary Center for the Arts,” according to the release.

Champions Kitchen, a 750-seat residential dining facility in the student center, will be expanded by 325 to 350 seats, and a new serving line is expected to open in July 2021, according to Penny Cox, UK’s associate vice president for administration.

That will be on the first floor and will include about 10,000 square feet of new space, she said.

A second- and third-floor expansion will be added at the same time with similar square footage on each level. Cox said UK hasn’t decided whether one or both of those floors will be shell space for future growth.

UK said a feasibility study by Omni Architects recommended building the additional floors over the new dining space so they will be available for future needs.

“It allows us to be nimble, to think strategically, and to act with the needs of our students and campus always first in our minds,” Monday said in the release.

It’s unclear how much of the $25 million project will be paid for by UK. The university said in a news release that Aramark, UK’s dining partner, will pay for part of the project.

The university spent about $999,000 on the design, Cox said.

UK said the project will be submitted for consideration to the Council on Postsecondary Education and the legislature’s Capital Projects and Bond Oversight Committee.

“We put students and their success at the center of everything that we do,” UK Board Chair Robert Vance said in the release. “The clear need to expand dining capacity at the newly renovated Student Center underscores our commitment to students and our commitment to serving the entire campus community.”

Aside from Champions Kitchen, the student center also offers retail dining options including Chick-fil-A, Panda Express, Subway, Auntie Anne’s, NuHealth and Wildcat Pantry.

The 380,000-square-foot student center also includes lounges, space for student organizations and student support, the UK Bookstore, a recreation facility, administrative offices and more.

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Karla Ward is a native of Logan County who has worked as a reporter at the Herald-Leader for 18 years. She covers breaking news.
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