University of Kentucky plans to leave Kirwan and Blanding towers empty this fall

The Kirwan and Blanding towers are among the few housing options at UK that cost less than $3,000 per semester.
The Kirwan and Blanding towers are among the few housing options at UK that cost less than $3,000 per semester. Herald-Leader

The 23-story Kirwan and Blanding towers that loom over the University of Kentucky's campus will likely stand empty during the fall 2015 semester, dramatically reducing the number of lower-cost dorm rooms on campus.

UK plans to vacate the towers, which together can house about 1,200 students, before the upcoming semester and keep them empty until the university develops a plan to either renovate them or tear them down.

The surrounding complex of low-rise residence halls will remain open for the fall semester. They can house about 1,350 students.

The administration has not decided on a long-term plan for the towers. Demolishing or renovating them would cost more than $10 million, UK spokesman Jay Blanton said, and the university is evaluating its options.

Since 2005, UK has added or replaced more than 5,200 beds on campus with the construction of new dorms. By August 2016, when new residence halls on the north side of campus are finished, that number will rise to 6,400 beds.

Blanton said it's still possible that some students may live in the towers this fall if there is an overflow from other dorms, but the plan is to empty the towers and relocate students to other parts of campus.

In previous years, the university placed overflow students in apartments near campus and assigned roommates to students who signed up for single-occupancy dorms.

Last year, in an effort to accommodate overflow students, the university assigned every campus resident adviser a temporary roommate and paid the advisers $250 every four weeks, up to $750, until the university found somewhere else for the students to stay, according to UK's Residence Life department.

"Normally we get more applications for housing than we have beds," Blanton said. "We will be evaluating our options throughout the summer as we get a clear picture as to how large our first-year class will be."

There were about 5,000 students in the 2014-15 freshman class, helping UK break the 30,000-student enrollment mark for the first time.

With the towers vacated, the number of lower-priced dorms at UK will be cut nearly in half.

The Kirwan Blanding complex and towers are the only remaining dorms, aside from Greek housing and UK-operated apartments, that cost less than $3,000 per semester. Students pay about $2,400 for a two-person room in Kirwan Blanding and about $2,900 for a single-person room. Newer residence halls cost about $3,500 to $4,300 per semester. The price of nearly all campus housing is set to go up 3 percent this fall.

Some students voiced concern that eliminating lower-cost housing could create hardships for low-income students.

"There are benefits in some ways to having a newer facility, but there are students who pay out of pocket and that could be difficult for them," said Rosalyn Robinson, assistant director of UK's Martin Luther King Center. "Everyone doesn't have scholarships, everyone doesn't have parents who can pay for that."

Blanton said the transition to newer dorms focuses on creating living-learning spaces, which place students with similar classes in the same dorm to create out-of-the-classroom educational opportunities.

"The older residence halls, which lacked classrooms, community and collaborative spaces, as well as consistent high-tech capacity, did not and could not provide that kind of experience," Blanton said. "Our first priority is living and learning space on campus for all first-year students and then we plan accordingly."