University of Kentucky officials on Monday promoted the economic spinoff from their plan to remake the residence hall system in partnership with a private company, saying construction would create thousands of jobs and millions in tax revenues.
Using nearby work on the first new residence hall as a backdrop, UK leaders sought to keep up the momentum for their long-term proposal to tear down aging dorms and build new living and learning quarters in their place on the Lexington campus.
UK has formed a partnership with a private development firm to replace its dorms. It comes amid efforts to boost enrollment, strengthen undergraduate programs and revitalize the core of the campus.
"We proceeded with this endeavor, not simply to build new buildings that rise over the campus for the next 100 years," UK President Eli Capilouto said. "We did this because of what will happen within these facilities, providing this robust undergraduate education, one that prepares our students for lives of leadership, meaning and purpose."
The first of the new residence halls is set to open in August 2013. The $25.8 million, 601-bed hall in the heart of campus will house Honors students and also will feature classrooms and faculty offices.
In October, UK trustees will consider another phase of the project that would result in four additional residence complexes being built.
Combined, construction of the five residence halls would create nearly 2,900 jobs and generate nearly $4 million in state and local taxes.
"UK is not only creating jobs for the future in the education of our students, we're also creating jobs today," Capilouto said.
The long-term plan is for a new residence hall system featuring up to 9,000 beds on campus. UK currently has about 6,000 residence hall beds, but fewer than 700 of the beds are in rooms with such modern amenities as quick Internet connection. Many aging dorms lack energy efficiencies and lack inviting community spaces where students can study and socialize.
UK Student Government President Stephen Bilas said waiting lists are long for those rooms with such modern features.
"Students want to live on campus and they want affordable, modern residence halls," he said.
UK's private-sector partner in the enterprise is Memphis, Tenn.-based EdR, one of the country's largest developers of collegiate housing.
EdR plans to pump in about $500 million of private equity to cover the costs of the construction project. The company would construct and own the residence halls on land leased by UK.
Each phase of the project must be approved by UK trustees.
Meanwhile, the budget approved by the school's trustees in June started setting side funding for debt service for other long-term campus renovations and construction projects that would include classrooms.
The plans come amid UK's goal to increase first-year enrollment from 4,139 last academic year to 4,800 in the 2013-2014 school year.
Capilouto said the campus revitalization would strengthen UK's recruitment of top students. He said students living on campus have higher success rates than students living off campus.
"Living on campus ... helps inspire the mind, builds friendships and fuels creativity," he said.