Wilmore institutions spend millions on construction

The Francis Asbury  Society's new $2.5  million  conference  center in Wilmore is one of three major construction projects under way in the city. The center, on 13 acres, is  expected to open in the fall.
The Francis Asbury Society's new $2.5 million conference center in Wilmore is one of three major construction projects under way in the city. The center, on 13 acres, is expected to open in the fall. Greg Kocher | Staff

WILMORE — This Jessamine County city has only two stoplights, two blinking lights and 6,000 people, but it has millions of dollars in new construction.

Three major construction projects involve institutions named for Francis Asbury, the pioneer Methodist preacher of the 1700s.

Asbury Theological Seminary is having 100 apartments for family housing built on the city's north side at a cost of $15.5 million.

Asbury University, formerly Asbury College, is building a $12 million media center for its School of Communication Arts.

And the Francis Asbury Society, an evangelism organization, is finishing a $2.5 million headquarters and conference center.

The seminary project involves construction of 26 buildings for married students, including two buildings that will house disabled residents. Site work began last fall on the 18 acres, and the buildings will be finished early next year, said Bob Christlieb, superintendent of the project for Irmscher Construction.

About 130 people are working on the site now, but that will peak at about 150 to 160 as painters and other subcontractors arrive.

The family housing is possible due to a $20 million gift from the Bill and Carol Latimer Charitable Foundation. The Latimers were so impressed with the preaching of a seminary alumnus in Florida, where they live part of the year, they decided to help the school. The gift is second only to the $38.9 million given to the seminary in 1990 by the estate of Ralph Waldo Beeson.

Bryan Blankenship, vice president of finance and administration for the seminary, said the family housing project has been in the works for 18 or 19 years. The seminary's apartment buildings and 44 two-bedroom duplexes in Wilmore were showing their age.

"The board realized that our family housing facilities were beginning to really deteriorate and we had to do something serious to upgrade them," Blankenship said.

Rent prices have not been set, but Blankenship said the new units will be leased "at very competitive market rates." He anticipated that the rents will be about $475 to $525 a month for two-bedroom units, and perhaps $50 or $100 more for the three-bedroom apartments.

Rental income will be used largely for maintenance, but some will go toward student scholarships, Blankenship said.

Across town, exterior and interior work progresses on the Andrew S. Miller Communication Arts Center on the Asbury University campus. The building is named for an alumnus who is a former member of the board of trustees and retired commissioner of the Salvation Army. Construction began last fall, and the building will open for January classes; 20 to 35 workers are on site each day.

Built on split levels, communications arts center will include a 6,000-square-foot television studio, a 5,000-square-foot black-box theater with seating for 300, a professional recording studio, two multimedia production labs and a 120-seat media-screening theater.

The building will be the nexus for the media communications, journalism, theater and cinema performance, and communications programs. The School of Communication Arts has 300 students, or about a quarter of the traditional undergraduate student body at Asbury University.

"We look at it as more than just a building to house classes," said Jim Owens, dean of communication arts. "Just the way the building has been built and designed, it adds a lot to the program."

For example, the southern exterior of the building will double as the back lot for a movie set, with different façades representing a townhouse, a movie theater with a marquee, professional office and a fire station. Filming also can take place inside, where a hallway will resemble storefronts.

"Students in our video area actually make films, so they have to have a place to do it," said Randy Richardson, director of capital construction and facilities planning.

The center also will display props from movies such as Citizen Kane, the 1941 classic directed by Orson Welles; the 1939 version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame; and Thirteen Days, the 2000 Kevin Costner movie that recounted the 1962 Cuban missile crisis.

Meanwhile, the interior work is being done on the new conference center for the Francis Asbury Society. The society, a non-profit association of scholars and missionaries formed in 1983, assists churches and others of all Christian denominations in evangelistic efforts around the world, said the Rev. Paul Blair, president of the society.

"Somebody in Russia will call us wanting to teach at a seminary for a week or two, or in Latin America wanting us to speak," Blair said. "We're really known for being a deeper-life organization. It's not just to get people to come to Christ; it's to get men and women sold out to Christ."

The society now operates out of a cramped warren of offices near Asbury University. The new site on a 13-acre property will house offices, a chapel and a conference center that will accommodate more than 100 people. Money for construction was raised through donations to the society.

Construction began about three years ago. The custom timber-framed building that resembles a state resort lodge will open in a couple of months, and a grand opening will be held in the spring.

"It will be a very public building," Blair said. "They will come in here to read, to do research and to pray."