Transylvania to move bookstore as part of broader expansion plans

This building on Third Street is being renovated to be the university's new bookstore.
This building on Third Street is being renovated to be the university's new bookstore.

Transylvania University's bookstore is moving to a former commercial space on Third Street, only a block from campus but deeper into Lexington's urban core.

It's a small step in a much bigger plan as the college tries to expand both its local presence and its national reputation.

President Owen Williams is just a year in the job, but he has been steadfast in his vision for Transy, which includes a bigger student body, a more prestigious school and more involvement with the city.

"It is my intent that the boundary between us and Lexington should be evaporated," Williams said in a recent interview. "We're seeing an opportunity for us to benefit in the growth of Lexington. It's true that Lexington is a major selling point for us."

The beginning of that growth, Williams said, is better athletics facilities, which will have a "domino effect" on recruitment.

"We have long had too few athletics facilities because of our landlocked position," Williams said. "Athletics is an important part of higher education."

To start that expansion, Transy has plans to buy property on West Fourth Street, developing athletics fields that will back up against the new Bluegrass Community and Technical College being built on the Eastern State Hospital property.

Williams also has hinted at more expansion north of Transy's campus, and he said he embraces the idea of more united relationships with BCTC and the University of Kentucky.

Better athletics will help to recruit a larger and more diverse student body, raising the student population from about 1,100 to an optimal 1,500, he said.

Still, Transy hit a small bump this fall when it attracted a freshman class of 260, fewer than had been expected. That caused a budget deficit that is working its way through campus, Williams said.

Overall, the school's $133 million endowment is nearly back to 2008 levels, and the school is financially healthy, he said.

By next year, he said, he hopes to have a freshman class of 300 students who will be able to participate in Transy's newest innovation, an August term. The three-week, one-course semester will bring all freshmen to campus ahead of other students.

"We want freshmen to understand what we mean by a liberal arts education," Williams said. "We want them to understand how to approach other, bigger opportunities in their education."

The pass-fail class will be a "non-threatening orientation experience," he said.

Then, he said, he hopes more students will lead to more faculty. Although Transy already has a small student -teacher ratio, 12 to 1, Williams said he would like to make it 10 to 1 and add programs such as Middle Eastern studies.

"We're competing for the best students," he said. "There's potential for expansion in any and all directions."

Williams has made other changes, too. He worked with the school's 50-plus member board of regents to change it to more of an advisory board, while members self-selected a more efficient board of trustees, which is the school's governing board.

One trustee, Norwood Cowgill, said Williams is doing exactly what was expected: "He's got a whole lot of energy, and a lot of good ideas to move the school forward."

Professor Meg Upchurch said there's a lot of excitement about where Transy could go with Williams at the helm.

"There's a lot of conversation between faculty and staff and administration that I think is greater than there was before," Upchurch said.

Josh Edge, president of the Student Government Association, said students were apprehensive about many changes at first, "but now, we're really embracing changes."

Edge particularly likes the idea of the August term, which will "be a great bonding experience.

What happens at Transy affects Lexington in direct ways, and that's why the city is so interested in what Williams does at the school, Mayor Jim Gray said.

"President Williams is seizing the moment to lead Transylvania with a challenging and stimulating vision: to increase the student population, strengthen the faculty and expand the campus," Gray said. "Doing this will impact Lexington's economy and culture for generations."