A finger-snap ago, Central District was nothing more robust than an artist’s rendering, a wish list, part of a master plan for what our beloved campus could one day be, how it should live and breathe and teach and embrace, for the next half-century or more.
Less than two years later—“We tried to build it as fast as we could,” said one project architect—and this thing is done.
Or, if not done, close to it, at least for now, and all those fears we might have silently nursed about too much, too soon? Park them. The newly christened Central District—40-plus acres of mostly empty or under-utilized space bordered by Allen Field House, Oliver Hall, 19th Street, Daisy Hill and Irving Hill Road—is suddenly a vibrant center of student life, faculty research and science education.
Read more in the cover feature of issue No. 4, 2018, of Kansas Alumni magazine.
University architect Jim Modig, a,’73, and former University architect, Warren Corman, e’50, guide a tour of KU’s Central District. The Integrated Science Building is the focal point, but it’s joined by new student housing, parking, a new Burge Union, and a utility plant.
Watch a two-minute timelapse video of the Central District under construction.
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.
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.”
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
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.
Contractors on Wednesday began inspecting the 65-year-old Campanile for weakened pieces of exterior limestone. University Architect Jim Modig, a’73, says masonry specialists were called in when “gravel-sized” pieces of stone were discovered around the base of the 120-foot tower.
“What we wanted to do is get a bucket out there and inspect all the stonework, all the way up and down, just to see what’s going on,” Modig says. “Once they check everything out they’ll come back and tell us what needs to be done.”
Along with removing any obvious loose pieces, the workers are also “sounding” the limestone, listening for hollow spots that can indicate fractures.
“It’s the typical Kansas freeze-thaw weather and its impact on native limestone,” Modig says.
Inspections should last only a day or two. Barring an unexpectedly dire diagnosis, it is anticipated that repairs will be completed well before Commencement on May 15.
“It’s not a major project as we sense it right now,” Modig says. “We refer to it as something like a tune-up.”
McCollum Hall, the largest residence hall at the University of Kansas, was demolished at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, November 25.
Built in 1965, 10-story McCollum Hall was originally designed with a capacity of 910 residents. With two new residence halls now facing Lewis and Hashinger halls, the McCollum site will be paved for much-needed parking.
Watch our video below to see interviews detailing the history of McCollum Hall and the future of Daisy Hill with Becky Schulte, University archivist; Jim Modig, University architect; and Curtis Marsh, director of KU Info.
Planning is underway for a complete reconstruction of Memorial Drive, to begin in summer 2016 and continuing the following two summers. The project will replicate improvements made the past three summers to Jayhawk Boulevard, including subsurface utilities, new concrete road surface and sidewalks, and improved LED lighting, with crimson and blue banners adorning the lamp posts.
Campus planners also hope to use the project as an opportunity to move “The Victory Eagle” statue now perched in front of Dyche Hall to Memorial Drive, where it would join the parade of other memorials to KU’s 20th-century war casualties.
The bronze statue, a World War I memorial depicting a female bald eagle defending her nesting eaglets, was part of a national campaign to place replicas of the statue at every county line along U.S. Highway 40, then a primary transcontinental highway. The statue placed at the Douglas-Leavenworth county line was dedicated in 1929, but, as interstate highways overtook their two-lane counterparts in primacy, “The Victory Eagle” became overlooked and, in 1980, was vandalized and knocked off its pedestal.
Tom Swearingen, g’60, then director of exhibits for KU’s Natural History Museum, secured the statue for KU, and it was rededicated on Mount Oread in 1982. Now University Architect Jim Modig, a’73, is eager to see the inspiring work of art find its final, permanent home on Memorial Drive, likely between the Campanile and Korean War Memorial.
“It’s a war memorial,” Modig says, “and it would be great to get it down there with the other memorials and treat it with respect that way.”
Memorial Drive reconstruction is budgeted at about $6 million. Like the Jayhawk Boulevard project, public funds will be used for the utilities, road surface, sidewalks and lighting, and private donations will fund landscaping improvements.
The final stretch of Jayhawk Boulevard improvements had originally been scheduled for completion in summer 2016. It is now scheduled for 2017.
A significant change created by this summer’s work was replacement and repositioning of the boulevard’s north traffic booth. Originally situated at 13th Street, in front of the Kansas Union, the booth was first moved one block south, to 14th Street; that change allowed for easier public access to the Natural History Museum in Dyche Hall, but still restricted daytime access to Danforth Chapel and Lilac Lane.
A significantly smaller booth, which no longer dominates the streetscape as did the previous island, has been moved west of Lilac Lane, allowing for public access to Danforth Chapel, Watkins and Miller scholarship halls, the east lot of Fraser Hall, and Blake and Twente halls.
For the third consecutive summer, a significant stretch of Jayhawk Boulevard has been closed as swarms of construction crews begin a frantic three-month sprint to replace and improve storm sewers, underground utilities, the road surface, sidewalks, crosswalks, landscaping and lighting.
Renovation of KU’s ridge-top artery, which began in 2013 at the Chi Omega fountain and in two summers of work reached the four-way stop at Sunflower Road, will now stretch from Sunflower Road to 14th Street. As expected, detour and closure signs now seem to outnumber spring flowers, and wherever it is you might want to go on campus, “good luck on trying to get there,” University architect Jim Modig, a’73, says with a resigned chuckle. “Déjà vu, right?”
Access to Lilac Lane, Danforth Chapel, two scholarship halls, The Outlook, Blake and Twente halls and the small parking lots behind Fraser Hall and Watson Library will be maintained with a temporary paved lane, which for now is accessible from the west; after construction moves from 14th Street to Watson Library, it will be reachable from the east.
The limestone information board that had been adjacent to the sidewalk between Dyche and Lippincott halls has been removed; once road and sidewalk construction is completed, it will be rebuilt and upgraded with an eye toward further high-tech enhancements. Modig does not anticipate any need to move the iconic Jimmy Green statue.
“It will stay right where it’s at,” Modig says. “We’re fortunate. Unless there’s a surprise in there, the sidewalk grades and everything will probably work out just fine. We’ll remove all the sidewalk around it and repour with new sidewalk.”
As with the western stretch of Jayhawk Boulevard, planting a variety of trees, bushes and other landscaping will be a big part of the project, including the stretch in front of Watson Library that hasn’t had trees for decades. Lighting will be upgraded to LED, sidewalks will be completely replaced and roadside parallel parking will no longer be permitted.
“When we pulled the parallel parking off of the street [from the fountain to Bailey Hall], people have commented about how much wider the street is,” Modig says. “Well, it’s the same width it has always been. And without the parked cars there, it’s so much safer because you don’t have people darting out from behind parked cars.”
Jayhawk Boulevard’s $11 million reconstruction is far from the only campus road construction now underway.
Crews this week removed the traffic control booth at Sunflower Road and Sunnyside Avenue; it will be replaced by card-activated gates that are being installed in the middle of Sunflower Road between Stauffer-Flint Hall and Watson Library. Modig anticipates that the Mississippi Street booth will also be removed and replaced with gates, but that project could be five or 10 years away.
On the west side of the central campus, 15th Street is closed for reconstruction between Green Hall and Naismith Drive.
“The road was in pretty rough shape before we started construction [on new engineering buildings], and the construction didn’t help it,” Modig says. “We had a bad road to start with, and it was past-due time to freshen it up.”
The Irving Hill Road bridge is also closed for the summer, for installation of wider sidewalks and safer handrails. Naismith Drive in front of Allen Field House will be closed for a week or two for installation of utilities to serve the new DeBruce Center.
While Jayhawk Boulevard’s surface, sewers and lighting are paid from public funds, the landscaping is privately financed by KU Endowment donors, and Modig notes that fundraising is not yet complete.
“Endowment has done a very good job of raising the funds, but we’re not quite there yet,” Modig says. “As people see stuff go in, they should know that we’re scrambling to try to figure out how we are going to fund the next package. We could use some more money.”
Despite the traffic headaches, Jayhawk Boulevard’s current reconstruction promises to significantly beautify campus from Watson Library to Dyche Hall, just as two previous construction summers did for the western stretch. It was work long overdue and, once completed, greatly appreciated by all who cherish a charming hilltop environment.
“I hate to overplay this,” Modig says, “but first impressions do play a part in a person’s decision. So when you drive up and things are tired and worn out and beat up, it doesn’t leave a very good impression with prospective students or faculty or staff. It doesn’t give you a good image. This gives us an opportunity to make a big swing to get things back up to par. It will leave you with a very positive image of the University.”
For those weary of weaving through mazes of road closures, a respite awaits: The fourth phase of Jayhawk Boulevard reconstruction, from 14th Street to the north entrance at 13th Street, will be delayed one year for state budget issues. That project is now scheduled for summer 2017.
The central-campus streetscape remains cleaved from stem to stern, yet University Architect Jim Modig assures the KU Alumni Association that Phase II of the four-summer reconstruction of Jayhawk Boulevard is still on target for completion by the Aug. 25 start of fall classes. Modig, a’73, says that while this summer’s work is approximately a week behind schedule, plans also included a “buffer” to account for weather delays.
“The project will be done for the fall semester,” Modig says.
Completion of “landscaping and less critical items” will continue into early fall.
This summer’s boulevard enhancement extends from Poplar Lane, between Strong and Snow halls, to the four-way intersection where Sunflower Road crosses Jayhawk Boulevard. Because the intersection at the heart of campus is impassable—even pedestrians and bicyclists are routed on wide detours behind Bailey Hall to the north of the four-way stop and between Watson Library and Stauffer-Flint Hall to the south—the entire boulevard between the Chi Omega fountain and 14th Street traffic booths has been closed to vehicle traffic since Commencement.
Next summer’s work will extend the improvements to Lilac Lane, adjacent to Danforth Chapel, and the project will be completed in summer 2016 with upgrades north to 13th Street—and possibly a bit beyond, depending on the remaining financial resources.
On its surface, the $11 million project is a sorely needed boulevard beautification—with an entirely new street surface, overdue landscape replacement, enhanced lighting, and improved crosswalks and other pedestrian safety features. Below ground, storm sewer and utility upgrades will help manage stormwater runoff, with new underground collection pools designed to filter the overflow water and feed it back toward the thirsty roots of new trees and other plantings.
Staff photographer Dan Storey took photos of the progress on the boulevard this week. Watch the slideshow below or click here to see the pictures on Flickr.
Danforth Chapel, eight scholarship halls and the chancellor’s residence were recently added to the National Park Service’s National Register of Historical Places.
Collectively referred to as the University of Kansas East Historic District, the newly recognized zone on the eastern slope of Mount Oread includes 15 buildings and objects related to housing and student life, all dating to the years 1912 to 1963.
As reported in issue No. 2, 2013, of Kansas Alumni magazine, the heart of campus—Jayhawk Boulevard, roughly from the Chi Omega Fountain to the 13th Street entrance, and both the northern and southern slopes—was added to the Register of Historic Kansas Places in February 2013 as the state’s first historic campus district, and the National Register in April 2013. The East Historic District was named to the state register in November before also being named to the National Register in January by the National Park Service.
“I can’t tell you how many alumni have shared with me their fond memories of living in a scholarship hall, or of getting married in Danforth Chapel,” says Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little. “These places are central to the lives of so many Jayhawks, and we’re pleased to be able to preserve these buildings and landscape so that current and future students can have similar experiences while at KU.”
Historic designation does not prevent the University from making changes or renovations to protected structures and landscaping, but it does require careful consideration and approval from oversight boards.
“It doesn’t prevent development, but if we do develop it, we do it in a smart and appropriate manner,” University Architect Jim Modig, a’73, told Kansas Alumni in 2013, “and not do something that would be devastating to the character of campus.”
Work toward KU’s historic-district designations began in 2006 with a $130,000 study grant from the Getty Foundation. That led in 2008 to the KU Campus Heritage Plan, which in turn motivated University administrators, the Campus Historic Preservation and Heritage Advisory boards and Historic Mount Oread Friends to pursue state and national designations for the University’s historic districts.
Historic designation also comes with a tangible benefit: Tax credits for costs incurred in preservation work can be sold on the open market for 90 cents on the dollar, generating more income for much-needed restoration and repair.
A map of the historic districts can be found here.
Click here to view the complete National Register nomination form.
One of Mount Oread’s rarest transformations has suddenly brightened Jayhawk Boulevard: the creation of open green space.
In August, the University razed the century-old eyesore that for more than a decade had been used only for storage, ever since University Relations (now Marketing Communications) moved next door into the red-brick Wesley Building, the former home of Hilltop Child Development Center. The newly freed lot between the Wesley Building and Grace Pearson Scholarship Hall has since been terraced and seeded with grass, creating an inviting open area between Louisiana Street and Jayhawk Boulevard.
“It contributes to the landscape of the University, the way it’s set right now,” says Jim Modig, director of the Office of Design & Construction Management. “We probably need to do a little more landscaping in there, but we’ll let that kind of evolve over time.”
Exactly how long it will remain open space remains to be seen. The University is currently working on a revised campus master plan (www.dcm.ku.edu/plan-progress), and it’s possible the space might be tagged for development. Modig says one project previously considered for the site was a companion building to Dyche Hall that could house biodiversity programs, exhibits and collection storage. Results of the campus master plan are expected to be announced in January.
“There’s been nothing final about what’s going to go in there in the future,” Modig says. “It may just stay nice green space.”
Also on Modig’s wish list is a cleanup of the unkempt area behind the Wesley Building, which would continue the welcomed improvement of the aesthetics of Mount Oread’s eastern slope.
“But when we’ve got $300 million of deferred maintenance,” Modig says, “we haven’t got a whole lot that we can sink in there.”
The building razed in August was built in 1915 as a teaching lab for students from the School of Education known as Oread High School. Later renamed University High School, it was closed in 1950 and the space refitted for a faculty club. KU Endowment moved in in the late 1960s, until departing for Youngberg Hall on West Campus in 1976. That’s when University Relations moved in, until relocating next door in 2001, when Hilltop Child Development Center moved to its new home on Daisy Hill.
The white, wooden building, which in its crumbling condition gave the appearance of sliding down the Hill, had since been used for storage, and was filled with mold and asbestos.
The only other KU buildings razed in recent years were Lindley Annex, a “temporary” structure moved onto campus in 1947 and used as an architecture outpost until it was finally demolished in 2005, and the old Multicultural Resource Center, a termite-infested wooden structure adjacent to the Military Science Building razed after the Sabatini Multicultural Resource Center opened in 2008.
“Those facilities were way past their prime,” Modig says. “They were beyond help.”
The new green space between Jayhawk Boulevard and Louisiana Street has proven so popular for student access to and from campus that Modig thinks a path already worn into the grass will likely be improved with a new sidewalk and steps.