BGT deTours: University of Kentucky Gatton Student Center, Alumni Gym, & Patterson Hall - Lexington Luminary

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Wednesday, January 9, 2019

BGT deTours: University of Kentucky Gatton Student Center, Alumni Gym, & Patterson Hall


The Bluegrass Trust for Historic Preservation kicked off 2019 with their BGT deTour of the University of Kentucky (UK) Gatton Student Center, Alumni Gym, and historic Patterson Hall dormitory. A little background: In 1931 President McVey began investigation into the university's first student union building - completed in 1938 - toward which the Kentucky Kernel pledged the first $20,000 (or $500,000 today) and Omicron Delta Kappa helped fund. Architect Ernst Johnson focused heavily on exterior brickwork as a means of ornate decoration, a theme he famously continued to incorporate across numerous campus building; as part of the renovations, great care was taken to install a sequence of uplights, highlighting such exterior architectural details. The building was then and remains now strongly 'student-focused;' for example, the wrought ironwork adorning the Great Hall is original, having been forged on campus by third year engineering students during the first incarnation of the building. Although expansions to the first student center building followed in 1963 and 1982, only portions of the 1938 structure were included in the renovations.

Fast forward to the summer of 2015, when demolition of the existing student center began to make way for what would eventually become 378,000 square feet under roof - that's the equivalent of 8.5 acres! Upon completion in late 2018, the project totaled $201 million, funded entirely by strategic financial planning, with no state or federal contributions, nor third-party fundraising efforts involved.

Fun facts:
  • At the time of the 2015 renovation the planned UK student center was the largest in North America.
  • A number of Pin Oaks were removed from the front lawn - known to many as the site of the long-gone 'campus lake' - and transported to Quicksand, Kentucky to be harvested and reborn as coffee tables to be placed throughout the new student center. 
  • Over 400 club chairs and various leather chairs were recovered and restored as a part of the project, including a fair amount of Danforth furniture. 
  • During renovations the UK Physical Plant Division (PPD) unearthed a slab of concrete bearing the WPA stamp, which will be mounted with prominent placement in the new building. 
  • A total of four grand pianos were restored, one of which is now played on a daily basis in a seating area just off the main entrance of the student center. 
  • The Harris Ballroom (formerly referred to as the Grand Ballroom) was not included in the three-year renovation, however it is the primary focus of a forthcoming project proposal, which will include relamping and rewiring of the original chandeliers and restoration of the wood flooring. 
  • In 2019 the UK student center will celebrate two significant milestones: 
    • 450th comedy show (held in the Cat's Den), marking the longest continuously-running comedy show in the US 
    • WRFL's 30th anniversary of 24/7/365 on-air coverage 
Alumni Gym was constructed in 1924, but now all that remains of the original structure are the exterior walls. Construction Manager Reggie Smith - a former university football player - oversaw the demolition and reconstruction of the space, which now is adjoined to the student for the first time, and boasts 190 pieces of cardio equipment as well as four giant TV screens broadcasting different content to each corner of the facility. Fun fact: Since taking office in 2011, President Capilouto has approved $2.3 billion of campus construction and renovation projects.

Patterson Hall debuted as 'off-campus' housing in 1903, when women were not yet allowed to reside within the confines of campus grounds. It originally housed 120 bunk beds, akin to those found in prisons with metal frames and little substance otherwise. Each room housed 3-4 students; some featured fireplaces while others had dedicated bathrooms. The great parlor on the first floor - where tea was held each afternoon - still features original hardwood floors and an imprinted tin ceiling. A $15 million renovation included salvaging the original wooden windows and banisters, along with original rust-colored marmoleum flooring in the second floor classrooms. In addition to learning spaces, the former dormitory is now home to faculty and advisor offices and MoneyCATS, a financial literacy initiative in partnership with PNC Bank. The third floor consists of three apartments - one studio and two 1-bedroom units - for visiting scholars to use for up to 6 months.


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