Benson: Let's Not Look Back at "What Might Have Been"

photo from town gown forum

“A fulcrum moment.”

“A unique opportunity.”

“A window of time.”

Whatever term you choose to use – and President Michael Benson used them all as he shared his ambitious vision at a public forum on Tuesday, June 30 – it is clear that Eastern Kentucky University is the midst of a radical transformation not seen since the Robert R. Martin administration of 1960-76.

More than 120 members of the public and campus community packed the EKU Center for the Arts stage for Town and Gown: Vision 2020 Forum. The event included a multimedia presentation by Benson detailing campus revitalization projects and plans as well as a discussion between University and local officials about partnership opportunities. Audience members also had the opportunity ask questions and make comments.

Entering the third year of his presidency, Benson sprinkled his remarks with references to historical figures such as President Harry Truman; Truman’s Secretary of State, Dean Acheson; Winston Churchill; famed architect Daniel Burnham; and a relatively obscure Kentucky governor, William J. Fields. He also said he was the beneficiary of “some very great leaders” who preceded him as Eastern president, adding, “I pay homage to them.

“To every man comes that special moment,” said Benson, quoting Churchill. “I believe I am here with my colleagues and all of you at a really unique moment in history. It falls to us to take advantage of this moment.”

The Commonwealth of Kentucky had such a moment during the Fields administration in the 1920s, Benson recounted, but squandered the chance to make critical investments in education and infrastructure when it rejected a bond issue sought by the governor, resulting in decades of stagnation.

Bonds will play an important role in financing many of the EKU revitalization projects, too, as will public-private partnerships, private support and University funds. Also, the University’s Student Government Association stepped forward to approve a fee to support two student-centric facilities: a new recreation center and a renovated student union. Students will have input into the design of those two facilities, both cornerstones of a new Center for Student Life.

Those projects and others are aimed at helping the University recruit, retain and graduate students.

Benson discussed numerous other revitalization projects, both ongoing and planned, showing the audience photos and renderings of many. They include:

·         phase 2 of the New Science Building, under construction and expected to open by late 2017. When merged with Phase 1, the 340,000-square-foot facility will be the largest of its type in the Commonwealth.

·         the planned new Model Laboratory School/College of Education complex, to be constructed at the corner of Lancaster Avenue and the Eastern By-Pass.

·         three new, suite-style residence halls to replace three halls dating to the 1960s: Martin, Dupree and Todd. Martin may be razed as soon as Spring 2016, with the replacement of Dupree and Todd coming at a later time to be determined and with input from the Greek community that now occupies those two halls. University officials have said that, during the replacement process, every effort will be made to minimize the impact on all affected students.

·         a wellness center/indoor practice facility.

·         a new, multi-purpose facility to replace the east side grandstands at Roy Kidd Stadium, to be completed by Fall 2016. The stands have already been dismantled and removed.

·         a new alumni and welcome center.

·         a reading porch on the south side of John Grant Crabbe Main Library, to be completed this summer, overlooking a new pedestrian mall in a formerly lackluster industrial space.

·         new playing facilities for the baseball and softball teams.

·         a new pedestrian gateway and the Carloftis Gardens, both near the intersection of Lancaster Avenue and Barnes Mill Road.

·         improvements to the newly revamped University Club at Arlington.

·         new signage throughout campus.

Hanbury Evans Wright Vlattas and Company, an architecture and planning firm that has worked with more than 145 colleges and universities nationwide, is assisting EKU with its master plan. Open forums will be scheduled in the fall to solicit campus input. “This is all very fluid,” Benson said.

After listening to Benson’s presentation, Richmond Mayor Jim Barnes said: “It behooves the city, county and everybody to get on board. As the University grows, so do we. This vision is awesome.”

As the discussion turned to possible partnerships between the University and local government, Benson said: “All options are on the table. We’re looking for all opportunities to push the University and community forward.”

Benson noted that in dedicating his memoir to Truman, Acheson cited what he considered the greatest attribute of America’s 33rd president when he said, “He was completely devoid of the most enfeebling of human emotion: regret.”

Added Benson: “I don’t want us to look back here at Eastern at what might have been.”

To view the entire forum, visit ow.ly/P3rbG.

Published on July 02, 2015

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