Alumni Commons provides campus with new social center
Last semester, the University of Kentucky dedicated Alumni Commons, a new social gathering place in the heart of UK's campus. The article below appeared in the Fall 2023 edition of Kentucky Alumni magazine, giving readers an in-depth look at the multiple purposes and opportunities the space provides. For more information about Alumni Commons, visit https://alumnicommons.uky.edu.
Alumni Commons, a new social gathering space in the heart of campus, has opened on a portion of Rose Street after being closed for nearly 10 years because of construction projects.
What was once a two-way street has been repurposed for students, faculty, staff and alumni to gather, relax and enjoy. The area features terraced lawn seating, water features, patio and garden areas, swings, tables with umbrellas for shaded seating and spaces to accommodate large and small gatherings.
The corridor — from Columbia Avenue to Huguelet Drive — is multifunctional. Students can study there. Clubs can meet there. Friends can enjoy lunch there. Classes can be held there. Bands can perform there. The space has gates at both ends, bike lanes and it is well lit at night.
Jill Smith ’05 BE, ’11 AFE, associate vice president for alumni engagement and executive director of the UK Alumni Association, said because Rose Street is a central location on campus it’s the perfect place for Alumni Commons.
“Throughout my years at UK I’ve seen the campus change in some amazing ways. There are many new and newly renovated spaces for learning and living and for playing,” Smith said. “With Alumni Commons, the Alumni Association has brought a brand-new space to campus,” she said. “We are proud to be a partner in this transformational project for UK.”
The UK Alumni Association pledged $3 million to the $9 million project in 2022. Part of the gift agreement with the university provided naming rights for the new area. After extensive vetting, the name Alumni Commons was chosen.
Alumni Commons provides the UK community with a large outdoor place for socialization, an important aspect of any campus.
“We’re sort of space challenged with outdoor spaces at UK,” said Mary Vosevich, vice president for facilities management and chief facilities officer at the University of Kentucky. “Having one to two blocks of space solely for enjoyment will be really nice for this campus.”
The move to close a section of Rose Street was first recommended in 1965 by a campus master plan. Part of the reasoning was to make the campus more cohesive.
The new space is important to the UK campus for many reasons. It takes what was once a busy thoroughfare through campus and turns it into a campus community space for everyone to use.
Research shows there is a clear connection between time spent outdoors and a reduction in anxiety, stress and depression. Also, a lack of socialization can impact physical and mental health in a negative way.
For some, the COVID-19 pandemic stunted opportunities for socialization. This new space is designed to encourage socialization and Smith and others with the UK Alumni Association hope new memories will be made there.
Jason Marcus, vice president for the Student Government Association and a Alumni Ambassador for the UK Alumni Association, looks forward to Alumni Commons and all it will provide post pandemic.
“Coming out of COVID-19 and adjusting our lives back to this ‘new normal’ was difficult,” he said. “It affected students’ mental health and their ability to communicate with one another with in-person interaction. Having the UK Alumni Association not only build and support this new space, but also strategically plan it to be used in ways that are so incredibly important is something to be proud of.
“The possibilities are endless when it comes to this space, and I cannot wait to see the innovation that excites future Wildcats here on this campus in their ability to utilize this incredible area we are so blessed to have here on our campus.”
Ned Crankshaw, interim dean of the UK College of Design and a landscape architect, took a tour of Alumni Commons in the days before its completion. He was pleased with what he saw in terms of scale, vegetation and social seating.
For campuses in urban places, like UK, a social space like Alumni Commons can give the campus a “heart and soul space,” something UK has been lacking, he said. While there are several small spaces on campus where students gather, there hasn’t been a central campus location for socialization.
“It was noticeable to me when I came to UK in 1990 that there wasn’t a center space on campus other than the fountain at Patterson Office Tower and it was removed,” he said.
Alumni Commons will provide a universal space for students, faculty, staff and alumni because it’s not the territory of one academic major or one college, he said.
“On campuses, a place for stress reduction, a well-designed social space to encourage people to interact, is such a good thing,” he said, adding that the design is just part of the equation when it comes to determining if the space will be successful. How it is used and what will take place there is important, too.
Fortunately, the location of Alumni Commons is already a crossroads on campus. The area is flush with pedestrian traffic. A study showed that 19,000 people crossed Rose Street daily, said Vosevich.
“I don’t know anywhere else in Lexington that has that many pedestrian crossings a day,” she said.
As the UK campus has grown, Rose Street almost divides the campus in two with the majority of academic buildings on one side and dormitories, the William T. Young Library and many sporting venues on the other.
Some existing buildings along the Rose Street space have been refurbished, helping to enhance its look. The Chemistry-Physics Building, originally built in 1962, has been renovated with new labs, offices and a new exterior, roof and entrances. The parking lot next to the Jacobs Science Building is getting a facelift that will include new stairs and elevator towers and a new terraced lawn seating area is in front of the Mining & Minerals Resource Building.
While other campuses have similar open spaces, “only a handful” have them to this scale, said Kevin Locke, associate vice president of capital planning, design and construction at UK.
“I don’t see how you can not enjoy sitting out there,” added Vosevich. “It has something for everyone.”
As the state’s flagship, land-grant institution, the University of Kentucky exists to advance the Commonwealth. We do that by preparing the next generation of leaders — placing students at the heart of everything we do — and transforming the lives of Kentuckians through education, research and creative work, service and health care. We pride ourselves on being a catalyst for breakthroughs and a force for healing, a place where ingenuity unfolds. It's all made possible by our people — visionaries, disruptors and pioneers — who make up 200 academic programs, a $476.5 million research and development enterprise and a world-class medical center, all on one campus.
In 2022, UK was ranked by Forbes as one of the “Best Employers for New Grads” and named a “Diversity Champion” by INSIGHT into Diversity, a testament to our commitment to advance Kentucky and create a community of belonging for everyone. While our mission looks different in many ways than it did in 1865, the vision of service to our Commonwealth and the world remains the same. We are the University forKentucky.