Wildcat Lodge renovation is part of UK’s larger wish list for state budget

Wildcat Coal Lodge, where University of Kentucky basketball players live, is next to Memorial Coliseum. It opened in 2012 and cost $8 million to build.
Wildcat Coal Lodge, where University of Kentucky basketball players live, is next to Memorial Coliseum. It opened in 2012 and cost $8 million to build.

Amid many aspects of Gov. Matt Bevin’s proposed state budget, one line item in particular raised a lot of eyebrows: $21 million to renovate and expand the University of Kentucky’s Wildcat Coal Lodge, the deluxe accommodations for UK’s basketball team that opened in 2012.

However, in this case, the budget request is more like a wish list or a placeholder, UK spokesman Jay Blanton said. Every two years, each university must get permission from the state for any capital projects of more than $600,000, no matter who is paying for it and whether the money is in hand.

If the proposed expansion proceeds, UK Athletics would pay up to $21 million for athletic dining space near or attached to the lodge, which sits next to Memorial Coliseum. Blanton said that when a new student center opens in 2018, the dining center at Blazer Hall will close. That’s also where athletes take nutrition classes and get whatever special foods are required.

The new “training table” for all athletes on the north side of campus would be near Wildcat Lodge if UK athletics has the money to build it.

“We don’t know what the facility would cost us at this point and we don’t know if we’ll be able to do it,” Blanton said.

Blanton said the lodge project stood out because for the first time in recent memory, many other projects didn’t make the list. The rejected proposals include any project built with state bonding and any project that could be built with bonds issued by universities, also known as agency bonds.

That was true for all public universities in the state. For example, Eastern Kentucky University got permission for $50 million in new student housing, but only because the project is being financed and built by a private developer.

UK had asked for 70 projects that would have been built with university-issued bonds.

There has been a longstanding disagreement between higher education and Kentucky lawmakers, who think that even university-issued debt counts against the state’s total debt burden.

UK also didn’t receive its top-priority request: $125 million in state bonds to match $125 in university money to renovate the oldest buildings at the campus’ core.

The last state funding for capital projects at UK was last year, when legislators agreed to issue $132 million for half the cost of a new multidisciplinary research building. UK would finance the other half.

One project that did make the budget is also on UK’s wish list: a $38 million alumni association building to replace the current one at Rose Street and Euclid Avenue.

“But they have a long way to go on fundraising,” Blanton said.

Linda Blackford: 859-231-1359, @lbblackford

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