Professors question $143,828 cost of Lee Todd's new office at UK

Lee T. Todd, Jr., former president of the University of Kentucky, makes remarks during UK's commencement exercises at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky., pn Sunday, May 8, 2011. Photo by Matt Goins
Lee T. Todd, Jr., former president of the University of Kentucky, makes remarks during UK's commencement exercises at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky., pn Sunday, May 8, 2011. Photo by Matt Goins

Some University of Kentucky professors are questioning whether former President Lee T. Todd Jr. needs a campus office that will cost as much as the median price of a house sold in Central Kentucky.

Renovations for Todd's office in UK's Advanced Science and Technology Commercialization Center Building will cost $143,828. The median sale price for a house in Central Kentucky was $145,000 in June.

"He should have a three-bedroom house for that price," chemistry professor Robert Grossman said of Todd's new office.

After a yearlong unpaid leave of absence, Todd will join UK's engineering faculty next summer as a tenured professor with a salary of about $162,000 a year. In the meantime, he will receive the $461,000 retention bonus guaranteed in his contract for staying 10 years.

During his absence, Todd's office will be formed from an existing conference room, which workers will subdivide into a suite for Todd and his assistant, according to UK.

The six-figure renovation costs were first reported this week by The Kentucky Kernel, the student newspaper at UK.

John Rawls, a biology professor, wondered how Todd's office complex got funded ahead of UK's other building trouble spots. The school has more than $1 billion in estimated building needs and deferred maintenance, according to a 2007 estimate.

"In the context of all the other renovation needs of the university, I don't see how this one became such a priority compared to ongoing needs," Rawls said.

The money is coming from leftover funds budgeted for the science and technology building, which is used as an incubator for early stage companies being developed by UK employees, and from funds from the general administration budget, said UK spokesman Jay Blanton.

Blanton said Todd's office would put him in the center of the part of campus where his work nurturing startup companies and teaching engineering will take place.

"The president had negotiated with the board for office space, and ... it is appropriate for him to be located in the heart of the engineering complex," Blanton said.

He said the cost of converting the conference room would be the same if some other employee occupied the office.

"Those costs would exist irrespective of who's in that space," he said

The Advanced Science and Technology Commercialization Center is in UK's central campus and is considered part of the engineering complex.

Top items in the office overhaul budget include general construction, $86,515; furniture, $41,443; carpet, $5,625; telephone and computer wiring, $3,450; and blinds, $1,213.

Much of the $86,515 general construction cost, Blanton said, involves rerouting of heating and cooling systems.

Grossman, who has complained about the flaws in UK's chemistry building, said his office has metal and plastic desks, 50-year-old tile, "windows that leak when there's a good rainstorm," an old wooden bookshelf and a metal filing cabinet.

But, he added, it's hard to evaluate how deluxe Todd's office will be because renovation costs for UK campus projects tend to be inflated and difficult to understand.

"The problem here isn't necessarily that Lee Todd's office is extravagant," Grossman said. "The problem is that the cost of renovations at the University of Kentucky has no correspondence with what they should cost in reality. That is the problem of the university's physical plant and capital planning divisions more than anyone."

Blanton said many variables affect the price of construction projects on campus, including availability of labor and materials.

At least one faculty member doesn't envy Todd's new office.

Tim Stombaugh, who is on the extension faculty in biosystems and agricultural engineering, said he doesn't need fancy flooring because he would just track dirt on it.

"I don't have carpet, but I wouldn't want it," said Stombaugh of his office in the Barnhart building. "I've got no complaints about my office space."