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Important actions coming up Tuesday at the Statehouse
The University of Kansas last year placed Smith Hall on a list of 12 buildings deemed obsolete, “demolition ready,” and likely to be razed in fiscal year 2023. Those plans have changed, but the fight is not over.
In recent months, community members banded together to save Smith Hall by writing letters to key decisionmakers, penning newspaper articles, engaging in online outreach, and by attending an open house at the building in December. A coalition of individuals working to save Smith Hall also met with Lawrence legislators Rep. Mike Amyx and Sen. Marci Francisco to share their concerns.
In recent weeks, there have been discussions about Smith Hall at the Statehouse. The House Higher Education Budget Committee (HEBC) focuses on postsecondary education funding, including the public dollars allocated for building demolition. Amyx is a member of that committee.
At that committee’s Feb. 20 meeting, committee members asked KU Chancellor Douglas Girod about KU’s demolition planning process, as well as specific plans for Smith Hall. You can watch the 6-minute exchange at this link.
Girod indicated that a final decision about Smith Hall is now on hold until the new Campus Master Plan is completed later this year.
When asked directly about Smith Hall, Girod said: “Smith Hall has been an area of focus, obviously, for us; it is largely a vacant building that needs significant repair, would need massive upgrades …”
Although the chancellor’s efforts to answer questions on the spot are appreciated, some of the information he provided does not square with what we have learned and observed in recent months.
Smith Hall is not vacant. Classes are occurring there this semester. Office space is still in use and the library continues to be utilized as a place of study, work, and contemplation.
Perhaps most importantly, Girod’s comments about Smith Hall’s condition do not align with information contained in KBOR records.
In January 2021, KBOR released a building condition study (p. 12 at this link) that assigned a facility condition index (FCI) score to buildings at Regents institutions across the state. That report gave Smith Hall a score of .25, which translates into a “B” on a scale ranging from A to F. This index is an industry standard metric that identifies the magnitude of needs and deficiencies for a building or campus.
According to that study, the renewal cost to bring Smith Hall to 90% renewal level, or “A / good” condition, is projected at $859,151. The funding KBOR allocated for Smith Hall’s demolition was $650,000.
The HEBC met on March 7 to make recommendations about KU’s budget. Amyx offered an amendment that was aimed at ensuring KBOR would have an opportunity to receive complete information about KU’s plans for Smith Hall before voting again on demolition, and that the public would also have an opportunity to offer testimony to KBOR on the topic. The amendment requires a majority vote from KBOR before the building can be demolished in fiscal years 2023 or 2024.
The amendment is below:
Sec. 69. UNIVERSITY OF KANSAS
(b) During the fiscal years ending June 30, 2023, and June 30, 2024, notwithstanding the provisions of any statute to the contrary, no expenditures shall be made by the above agency from moneys appropriated from the state general fund or any special revenue fund or funds for fiscal years 2023 and 2024 as authorized by chapter 81 or chapter 97 of the 2022 Session Laws of Kansas, this or any other appropriation act of the 2023 regular session of the legislature, to demolish or raze Smith hall and move or place in storage any related artwork, including but not limited to the statue of Moses, on the Lawrence campus until the above agency has submitted a written revised and updated land use plan for the Lawrence campus to the state board of regents: Provided, That such plan shall include the justification for such demolition or razing of Smith hall and the plan for the use of the land currently occupied by Smith hall: Provided further, That such plan shall be presented to the state board of regents at a public meeting where members of the public shall be allowed to present testimony: And provided further, that if such plan is approved by a majority of the members of the state board of regents in a public meeting, then the above agency may expend moneys during fiscal year 2023 and 2024 to demolish or raze Smith Hall.
The House Higher Education Budget Committee voted to include this amendment in its funding recommendations. You can watch the committee’s deliberations at this link.
These recommendations will soon be reported to the House Appropriations Committee, and that committee will decide whether to adopt them. This is an important, positive step in the effort to save Smith Hall, but it is just the beginning of a lengthy budget process.
Smith Hall represents a 122-year tradition of teaching religious studies on that ground at 13th Street and Oread Avenue. We urge KU to respect the legacy of more than 500 donors throughout and beyond Kansas who gave money to build Smith Hall, in service to a vision that began in 1901. The building connects KU to hundreds of families, congregations, and businesses throughout the state. KU should honor and strengthen those ties.
Smith Hall remains very much endangered. Please continue to write letters to key decisionmakers. Visit savesmithhall.org to find addresses and related information. Encourage KU to move forward with the Lawrence Preservation Alliance’s efforts to place Smith Hall on the state and national historic registers.
The next few days are critical. Rep. Steven Howe is scheduled to report on the HEBC’s recommendations on Tuesday, March 14. These upcoming decisions in the Statehouse could determine Smith Hall’s fate.
Please contact your legislators immediately and ask them to support Amyx’s amendment to the budget.
About the writer
Tom Harper is a Realtor at Stephens Real Estate helping people in Lawrence and Douglas County buy and sell real estate. He is the founder of Lawrence Modern, a group whose mission is to raise awareness of midcentury and modern architecture. You will find him posting frequently on Instagram under @lawrencemodern, sharing his daily observations of his favorite place on earth: Lawrence, Kansas. Read more of Tom’s writing for The Lawrence Times here.
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