KU celebrates Central District

Posted on Nov 14, 2016 in Campus News and News

Central District Topping Out Ceremony
A colossal building—280,000 square feet—and the largest KU expansion in nearly 100 years demanded a massive celebration. A measly groundbreaking simply would not do.

So KU leaders nixed the shovel-and-dirt ritual and thought bigger. To mark a milestone in construction of the Integrated Science Building, which will anchor the new Central District taking shape on the Lawrence campus, KU staged a “topping out” ceremony Nov. 10. Beneath a brilliant sun and cloudless blue sky, a giant crane hoisted the final beam atop the frame of the three-story building. The task concluded with a raucous “Rock Chalk!” plus plenty of cheers and cannon bursts of confetti.

Central District Topping Out ceremony

About 500 guests attended the celebration, including 300 craftsmen and women currently working on various aspects of the Central District. As the event began, guests took turns signing the final beam before gathering for speeches and a barbecue buffet at long tables on the open-air first floor of the ISB. Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little began by tracing the origins of the project from KU’s 2014 master plan. The plan put KU’s aspirations on paper, envisioning the Central District as “a new hub for education and research that would enable us to address urgent needs here at the University and position us for excellence in the years to come,” she said. “After years of hard work, that vision is becoming a reality.”

Longstanding needs

Jim Modig, University architect, told the crowd that the Integrated Science Building meets a longstanding need by providing a proper home for teaching and collaborative research in chemistry, medicinal chemistry, physics, molecular biosciences and related fields. The structure will include:

  • 35 modular research labs
  • 18 class labs
  • a 352-seat lecture hall
  • 3 smaller classrooms
  • an open atrium
  • additional core labs and clean rooms

The atrium and other features of the building will showcase “science on display” with open corridors and large interior and exterior windows, Modig explained. The structure’s energy performance will be comparable to LEED Gold standards to support KU’s commitment to a sustainable environment.

Modig, a’73, also narrated a video flyover tour of the Central District. The district will include:

  • a new student union
  • student apartment complex
  • residence hall and dining facility
  • 600-space parking garage
  • central utility plant

A walkway known as the Jayhawk Trail will connect the Central District to West Campus, and the area will include a plaza and green space, as well as playing fields between the student apartment complex and residence hall. The parking garage will open in early 2017, and the residence hall and dining facility will be completed in summer 2017. The remaining structures will be finished in 2018. During peak construction, about 600 craftsmen and women will work on the various projects.

A transformative project

After years of study, KU created a public-private partnership to launch the $350 million project. The Kansas Board of Regents approved the concept in late 2015, and construction began 10 months ago, following the demolition of McCollum residence hall, the Stouffer Place apartments and the Burge Union. The University established the nonprofit KU Campus Development Corporation, which collaborates with Edgemoor Infrastructure and Real Estate LLC to oversee development, construction, operations and maintenance of the district. Chief contractors for the project are Clark Construction and McCownGordon.

Gray-Little declared that the Central District will “fundamentally transform this university and the way we educate leaders and conduct research,” moving KU closer to its goal to become one of the nation’s premier public research universities. Ultimately, the Integrated Science Building is more than an immense building, she said: “Remember that this is not just about physical space. It is not about a building. It’s about the students, and the way that they will learn in this new space. It’s about our faculty and staff who will educate our students and who will make discoveries that improve our world.”

—Jennifer Jackson Sanner

Central District Topping Out ceremony

Adorning the beam were the signatures of event guests, including construction workers, students, faculty and staff, and U.S. and KU flags. In keeping with tradition, two small trees atop the beam signify that no lives have been lost in the project, and they honor the natural resources used to build the structure.


Additional resources:
Pictures from the Topping Out ceremony

Central District website

Central District time-lapse webcams

“The Shape of Things to Come,” Kansas Alumni magazine, No. 3, 2014

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