UK's good news reveals challenges

Before Lee T. Todd Jr. hands off the presidential office keys to Eli Capilouto, the University of Kentucky has a couple of things to celebrate: A $20 million vote of confidence from the National Institutes of Health and a plan for finally giving art students and faculty a home that's not a hazard to their safety and health.

Interestingly, both of these accomplishments remind us of one of the new president's challenges: a half-billion dollars in infrastructure needs.

The Reynolds Building, which has barely changed from the days it was a tobacco warehouse, is just the most glaring example of deficiencies in UK's academic buildings and a campus that has grown noticeably shabby.

And the $20 million, five-year grant from the NIH increases the need for a new research building to house UK's medical and biotechnology scientists who have almost run out of space.

The NIH designation, one of 60 in the U.S., goes to UK's Center for Clinical and Translational Science, led by Dr. Phillip Kern.

UK's center is collaborating with Marshall University, Ohio State University, the University of Cincinnati and regional academic institutions to form the Appalachian Translational Research Network.

The goal is to turn basic research into treatments and drugs that heal patients.

One of the strengths UK brings is its study of factors such as smoking and obesity — "Kentucky uglies," as Todd might say — that contribute to high regional disease rates.

The goal, according to the NIH Web site, is to "prepare the next generation of scientists, break down barriers to translational research, accelerate the pace of scientific discoveries and improve the health of citizens in Kentucky, the Appalachian region and the nation."

Meanwhile, if negotiations are successful, UK's art department can look forward to moving into a new home by the fall of 2012.

UK's planned purchase of a warehouse converted into loft apartments on Bolivar Street to replace the dilapidated Reynolds Building on South Broadway seems like a match made in heaven.

The art department would get to keep Reynolds' assets — light, space, bohemian funkiness — while losing the rickety stairs and lead paint and gaining amenities such as bathroom stall doors and modern wiring, heating, cooling and ventilation — at a price that comes in under what it would cost to revamp the Reynolds Building.

Also, for the first time, students who have mobility impairments could study studio art at UK.

UK says it can continue to make good use of Reynolds for storage.

Here's hoping the deal goes through; we're already looking forward to the first student art show in the new digs.