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Benson outlines plans for Frankfort visit

EKU Regents meet in Frankfort

Priorities are science building, airport

- by Seth Littrell, The Richmond Register
February 24, 2014

RICHMOND — Eastern Kentucky University President Michael Benson and the regents board are convening in Frankfort today to make an appearance before the General Assembly.

In a Monday interview, Benson said he thinks this is the first time in recent history the entire board has traveled to the state capital representing the university’s interests.

“It’s a great opportunity for us to go and make our case,” the president said.

Benson said the biggest priority for the school was getting funding for phase two of the New Science Building. He said the $66 million request, which was included in the governor’s budget, looks “solid.” An additional $25 million added to the request to rehabilitate the Moore Building, the old science building which sustained flooding in January from burst pipes, may not be so definite.

“As they say, though, pigs get fed while hogs get slaughtered,” Benson remarked. “We’re not going to get greedy. We’ll take what we can get.”

If phase two is completed, Moore will likely be used as office space and classrooms for arts and science faculty, he said.

Some measurable advances in science education can be traced to the new facility, Benson said. The number of biology majors is up by 400 percent, and many teachers in the department have been working with professor Malcolm Frisbie to make the labs as efficient as possible.

The university is ready to begin the next phase as soon as funding is received.

“Not to be dramatic about it, but when we get the appropriation, we could put the bid package out July 2 and hopefully beat other projects to the street,” Benson said.

EKU will also be requesting $2 million to assist in expanding its aviation program, the president said. The funding would be used to create university-owned hangar space at the Madison Airport it operates for the three local governments. The hangars would be dedicated to housing the aviation program’s planes, some of which sustained minor damage during the recent severe winter weather.

The new hangars also would enable the aviation program to accommodate more students, Benson said.

“To be one of only six FAA-accredited certified programs with a 1,000-hour requirement for our pilots is really something we can hang our hat on,” he added. “We’re trying our best to continue to push that, but you also have to have the facilities out there to match your program.”

The two projects are only the start of many changes in the works, Benson said. The university administration is also planning the creation of a new campus quad focusing on the honors program, demolition of the Combs residence hall and a stronger effort to recruit international students. However, through it all, the president said he wants the school’s objectives to remain the same.

EKU will remain an “opportunity school” for students who may be the first in their families to attend college or cannot afford higher-cost institutions. It will also retain its emphasis on training teachers, law enforcement, firefighting and safety personnel among other signature programs.

“UK is always going to be UK,” he said. “But we’re a school that has a niche. We know what we’re good at, and we’re going to do it even better.”

Seth Littrell can be reached at slittrell@richmondregister.com or 624-6623.

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Published on February 26, 2014

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