UK to build digital research facility

The University of Kentucky is planning a new $18.6 million building near downtown Lexington that will become the second structure in its "Digital Village" quadrangle near the intersection of Maxwell and Rose Streets.

The new building, half funded with private donations, will house various College of Engineering research efforts in computer visualization, computer science and electrical and computer engineering.

UK President Lee Todd, who announced the new building Monday, says Digital Village will help position Kentucky's economy, and prepare Kentucky's students, for success in a world economy where digital technology is key. He noted that Kentucky-based technology companies already are proving that the state can compete on the global stage.

"As I've said many times, Kentucky people who start Kentucky companies will stay in Kentucky," Todd said. "Our kids need to understand that this happens in Kentucky ... this isn't just a Boston or a California deal.

"If we don't do this ... the state will continue to be in the mess we're in right now. We are paying a price right now for 100 years of history not investing in education."

The new building will be constructed starting in September on Rose Street, just south of UK's existing James Hardymon Building, which houses advanced computer and communications networking research. Those two buildings, coupled with two more planned in the same area for future years, would complete the proposed Digital Village.

Some $9.3 million of the new building's price will be made up in private donations, with the rest coming from the state's Bucks for Brains program, Todd said.

The biggest private donation, $6 million, comes from the Marksbury Family Foundation, headed by UK alumnus Davis Marksbury. He helped found Lexington's Extream Software, which is now a division of Hewlett-Packard.

During brief remarks, Marksbury also hit on the theme of Kentucky's economic competitiveness.

"I can say for sure that the technology being developed here ... is definitely world-class," he said. "I'm confident this new building will help accelerate the work here ... and pay dividends for the economy of Lexington and the state of Kentucky."

According to Todd, the new UK building will be the first built with a combination of private donations and funds for Bucks for Brains. He said that until recent legislative changes, Bucks for Brains money — designed to lure top researchers to the state — could not be used for construction.

The new facility will be named the Marksbury Building, pending approval by UK's Board of Trustees.

Thomas Lester, dean of the College of Engineering, said the structure will help foster creativity and innovation by bringing UK students and researchers together under one roof to exchange ideas and inspiration.

"Interaction, bumping into each other and talking at the water fountain, is where a lot of innovation occurs," Lester said. "But that's inhibited now, because we're are so scattered.

Lester said that UK's computer visualization program, which develops computer programs to turn data into images, now is "homesteading" in a private office building because there's no room for it on campus. Electrical engineering and computer science efforts are scattered among five different buildings, he said.

According to Lester, the new Marksbury Building should be competed in early 2011. The Digital Village itself potentially could be finished in four to six years, he said.

James F. Hardymon, for whom the Hardymon Building is named, is donating $2 million for the new building. James McDonald, president and chief executive officer of Scientific Atlanta, is donating $328,000. UK is seeking an additional $1 million in private donations.