$25M dining expansion planned at UK’s Gatton Student Center

By Jay Blanton, UK Now

UK Board of Trustees has approved a plan to expand dining and other space in the Gatton Student Center. Mark Cornelison | UK Photo

LEXINGTON, Ky. — The University of Kentucky Board of Trustees approved a proposal Friday for up to $25 million to expand dining and student support space in the Gatton Student Center.

The reasons:

  • High participation levels in UK meal plans that are used at the Student Center’s multiple dining venues, particularly Champions Kitchen.
  • Plans to continue to strategically grow undergraduate enrollment as part of meeting the state’s workforce needs. UK had record first-year enrollment this fall of nearly 5,400 with a total enrollment of more than 30,000.

“We put students and their success at the center of everything that we do,” said UK Board Chair Robert Vance. “The clear need to expand dining capacity at the newly renovated Student Center underscores our commitment to students and our commitment to serving the entire campus community.”

The renovated and expanded Gatton Student Center was opened in 2018 with nearly 380,000 s.f. It includes student organization spaces, student support and lounge spaces, retail options, a state-of-the-art recreation facility, administrative offices and residential and retail dining spaces, among other uses.

UK Dining — a partnership between the university and Aramark — provides multiple dining venues throughout the facility. The Student Center is open seven days a week and is heavily utilized by the campus and broader community.

UK Executive Vice President for Finance and Administration Eric N. Monday said meal plans offered by UK Dining have been even more popular than expected, including among staff and faculty.

A recently completed feasibility study commissioned by UK and conducted by Omni Architects examined expanding the current Champions Kitchen dining area east toward the parking lot and the Singletary Center for the Arts.

The study also recommended that it would be most cost-effective to go ahead and construct a second and third floor above the expanded space that can be fitted out as needed to provide student support and other services.

“We constructed the renovated Student Center with the capacity for expansion to meet the needs of students and our campus community as we grow,” Monday said. “The Student Center has become the living room of our campus even more quickly than we anticipated. It’s the heartbeat of our campus and has become the central gathering and dining space for much of the community.

“Planning for expansion now demonstrates the power of this partnership,” Monday said. “It allows us to be nimble, to think strategically, and to act with the needs of our students and campus always first in our minds.”

The full cost of the expansion approved by the UK Board of Trustees is $25 million. The board was asked to spend $1 million in UK funds. Additional funding will be provided by UK dining partner, Aramark. That cost will be factored into Aramark’s current contract with the university.

Monday said the project, if approved by the board, would also be submitted to the Council on Postsecondary Education for consideration as well as the state legislature’s Capital Projects and Bond Oversight Committee, which reviews construction proposals in the interim between legislative sessions.

Map showing the expected expansion area next to Champions Kitchen.
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