Positioning KU for future research opportunities
From: Simon Atkinson, Vice Chancellor for Research
Sent: Monday, Sept. 7, 2020, 11:08 a.m.
To: KU Lawrence deans, directors and department chairs; KU Lawrence governance leaders
Members of the university community have made extraordinary efforts these past few weeks and months to advance our research and scholarship and deliver the best possible experience for students across modalities. Even as we focus on these immediate needs, we also must plan for the future of our institution — taking steps to prepare for opportunities that may lie ahead. I write to tell you about one such step that you may hear about in the coming weeks.
In the aftermath of the Great Recession of 2008-2009, Congress attempted to stimulate the economy by funding infrastructure projects. KU was one beneficiary of these funds, which supported new facilities for the School of Engineering. Given the pandemic’s devastating impact on the U.S. economy, many voices in Washington are calling for a similar stimulus package. As was the case in 2009, it is likely that funds would be directed toward projects that are considered “shovel-ready,” to accelerate the impact of the stimulus. To ensure that KU is well-positioned to take advantage of these funds, should they materialize, we have begun the planning and design phase for a new facility that would be built if KU were able to secure the significant funding needed for its construction.
KU’s aging building infrastructure presents significant challenges. Many successful programs and outstanding researchers and scholars are housed in inadequate facilities. This creates a barrier for recruitment and retention of the top talent that we need to sustain KU’s status as a leading research institution and member of the AAU. In the biomedical and biological sciences, in particular, our cutting-edge research is generating fundamental knowledge that underlies some of the great challenges facing humanity: finding cures for cancer and Alzheimer’s disease, understanding developmental disorders, unraveling the effects of a changing climate on the natural world. This research leads to new medicines and diagnostics, as well as innovations in agriculture that promote food security. And these programs train the next generation of pioneers and innovators in these fields.
Much of this work is housed in Haworth Hall, which is now at a point where it struggles to serve the needs of first-class biomedical and biological research and instruction. The underlying configuration of the building, together with its antiquated HVAC and other systems, makes a complete replacement more sensible than a major renovation.
Thus, with funding from a gift donated by a generous friend of KU, we have begun the planning and design phase for a new facility that would be located in the Central District, adjacent to the Integrated Science Building (which soon will be renamed Gray-Little Hall) and the Burge Union. The location takes advantage of a site that was part of the original plans for the Central District and can be served by its power plant. The facility will be designed with research and teaching in biomedical and biological sciences in mind, and also will include space that can accommodate startup and other commercialization activity.
Of course, we are a long way from being able to make this facility a reality. Sorely needed as it is, we must have outside support to build it. And we still face significant financial challenges brought on by the pandemic that will need to be addressed. However, this opportunity, paired with donor support for planning, allows KU to work and act strategically to benefit and build our research expertise. By planning ahead, we will be prepared to bid for federal or state funds and to engage with our friends and supporters.
Vice Chancellor for Research