Campus News

University Lofts to House Students Temporarily


LEXINGTON, Ky. (July 26, 2011) -- University Lofts, a sprawling, red-brick building located on Bolivar Street immediately adjacent to the University of Kentucky campus, awaits yet another transformation.

In an earlier life it was a tobacco warehouse, a few decades ago it housed local businesses, and most recently it was renovated to create 86 loft-style apartments with all the modern amenities. Then, UK purchased the 100,000-square-foot building in June, with plans  to begin yet another renovation of the University Lofts building in the summer of 2012 primarily as a new home for the UK Department of Art, currently housed in the aging, flawed Reynolds Building No. 1.

However, University Lofts’ life as a loft-style apartment building is not quite over. Before it can be converted into a building fit to house UK’s art students and their paintings and sculptures, obligations to leased tenants must be met.

Meeting the university’s legal responsibility to outstanding leases was a priority, said Ben Crutcher, associate vice president for Auxiliary Services.

When UK took possession of University Lofts last month and UK Auxiliary Services began acting as the building’s property manager, “there were 66 existing leases that we were obligated to honor,’’ Crutcher said, noting there were only 20 empty apartments when UK took possession.

The leases ranged from those scheduled to expire within days of the purchase to 14 apartments that were pre-leased for the approaching 2011-2012 academic year. The Housing Office has leases through June 30, 2012, for all but nine apartments.

“UK inherited those obligations to the residing tenants, including several leases that will sporadically lapse over the next year,” he said.

Plans are for the University Lofts building to undergo another facelift – from loft apartments to art studios -- beginning next summer.

"The renovations required to accommodate the College of Fine Arts in University Lofts are not very complicated," said Vice President for Facilities Management Bob Wiseman. "We intend a wide-open floor plan with institutional HVAC systems and the necessary air exhaust systems for certain fine arts needs, new lighting, modern accessible rest rooms and other amenities that will optimize the space for our art students.

"But most importantly," Wiseman added, “the University Lofts building can be a safer building. It is on a well-lit major road across the street from campus and close to other housing and businesses frequented by students. The building itself has a good roof, windows and exterior walls, sound stairways, solid electrical supply and a good elevator; and it does not have the safety, access and site drainage issues associated with the Reynolds Building."

Several years ago, UK began exploring a number of options to rehabilitate Reynolds Building No. 1, an academic building that presently houses instructional areas in the UK Department of Art in the UK College of Fine Arts. Like the University Lofts building, Reynolds Building No. 1 is a former tobacco warehouse and processing facility. But unlike the Bolivar Street building, the 77-year-old Reynolds Building has never had a major renovation, making the space unsuitable and undesirable for student and faculty use.  In addition, an extensive $17 million renovation requested for state funding in 2008 was not appropriated.

Beyond the day-to-day structural and operational impediments that students, faculty and staff must overcome, the building has hindered UK Department of Art's education process and recruitment efforts.

In addition to structural advantages, the University Lofts property includes on-site parking as well as an associated 85-space parking lot located across Bolivar Street from the Lofts. The addition of proximate parking will be a welcome amenity, as the existing Reynolds facility has extremely limited parking. Additionally, University Lofts is located adjacent to existing campus and city transit routes which will further enhance the students’ accessibility.

As well, the change in facility will benefit the instructional needs of faculty and students.

"The proposed facility on Bolivar will allow the department to plan and arrange programs in a more efficient and effective manner," said Benjamin C. Withers, chair of UK Department of Art.. "Reynolds was more or less an ad hoc arrangement of spaces that grew without any real planning as space became available. Some of the spaces were cramped, others barely functional and took a lot of faculty time to maintain. With the new facility faculty and students should be more able to concentrate on what’s important— their teaching, learning, and creative activity."

In addition, the new facility will be able house many UK Core general education courses. "The location and condition of the University Lofts will enhance significantly the university’s new general education curriculum, which is being introduced in the fall," said Dean Michael Tick of UK College of Fine Arts. "As part of that new curriculum, thousands of students will be enrolled in Arts and Creativity classes, many of which will be offered through the Department of Art."

The move to University Lofts would not only meet the needs of those currently studying and creating in Reynolds Building No. 1, but would allow potentially even more of the department to move under one roof. It would include class space for an art studio, faculty studios, graduate studios and spaces for advanced undergraduate work. The Barnhart Gallery, the primary exhibition space for students in Reynolds Building No. 1, would also be relocated to the University Lofts structure. The location of the building on Bolivar will make the program much more visible and accessible to the community, likely attracting potential students and arts patrons to its galleries and events, including the UK Department of Art's popular Open Studio. It is anticipated that other staff and faculty in the Department of Art may be able to move to the new facility as well.

"With the University Lofts initiative, the College of Fine Arts may be able to relocate the Department of Art’s main office, which is currently housed in the Fine Arts Building," noted Tick. "Such a move would provide space for the program in arts administration, which has grown significantly over the past couple of years. Also, with the Department of Art under one roof, we would dedicate more space to the expanding School of Music and the Department of Theatre’s new dance minor program, slated to begin this fall."

If the project goes as planned, UK students could be painting, sculpting and drawing in the renovated facility as early as the fall of 2013.

MEDIA CONTACT:  Gail Hairston, (859) 257-3302,