UK announces $20 million gift for student center

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Associated Press

Posted on September 5, 2014 at 5:00 AM

A businessman who ranks as the University of Kentucky's most generous donor stepped forward Thursday with a new $20 million gift to help renovate and expand the school's aging student center, a hub of campus life since the late 1930s.

The donation by Carol Martin "Bill" Gatton, a UK graduate and trustee, goes toward construction of a new 330,000-square-foot student center on the Lexington campus. Groundbreaking for the $175 million project is set for next June, with completion expected in late 2017.

"Giving money to the right things is more important than making money," Gatton, who earned his UK degree in 1954, said at the announcement attended by state and campus leaders. "What I want to do is build a bridge from my generation" to help current and future students.

Gatton's latest donation, the largest gift in UK history, brings his total gift-giving to UK to more than $45 million, making him the single-largest donor in school history. In 1995, he committed $14 million for UK's business school, which is named for him. Gatton's business ventures included auto dealerships, banking and real estate.

UK's student center opened in 1938 and was expanded twice, the last time in 1982. The original structure will be retained and renovated along with its grand ballroom, where Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Bruce Springsteen, Jimmy Buffett and the Red Hot Chili Peppers performed.

The new center will approach nearly twice the size of the current facility, where students hang out, attend student organization meetings or catch performances. The new center will include student activity and study spaces, dining and retail operations and a bookstore.

The project will be funded through donations and student fees without use of state tax dollars, UK officials said.

"We will create a place where students can create, mature, celebrate and relax together," said UK President Eli Capilouto. "A building that supports their development so they are comfortable socially and skillfully in any room they enter going forward."

The current student center draws nearly two million visitors each year. UK Student Government President Jake Ingram said student centers serve as "the living room" for universities, and the new one at UK will help with student recruitment.

"For the University of Kentucky to be a competitor in this global market for students, and to continue to fulfill our promise to transform the student experience, it's time we get a new living room," he said.

The new student center comes amid an unprecedented flurry of construction projects at the state's flagship university.

More than $1 billion in projects are underway or planned, including new student housing, renovation and expansion of the business and law schools, a new science building and renovation of Commonwealth Stadium, the home of UK football.

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