Renovation Moves Forward of YSU Kilcawley Center

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — Kilcawley Center, the 157,000 square-foot student center on the campus of Youngstown State University, could be headed for a major downsizing and facelift.

The Finance and Facilities Committee of the YSU Board of Trustees agreed to pursue the renovation project further on Wednesday. The board asked President Jim Tressel and Vice President of Finance Business Operations Neal McNally to explore the funding options of the project projected to be in the $40 million range.

The decision came after members of the committee were presented the results of a study began last August, which took into consideration the future of the building. Part of the building and the connected Kilcawley House were constructed in 1964, according to the presentation, with additions in 1971 and 1979. A recreation center was added to the end in 2005.

With most of the Kilcawley Center more than 50 years old, the committee looked at the size and age of other student unions and YSU was by far the oldest and largest of competing universities. By example, Akron University was built in 2004 has just over 110,000 square foot.

Amy Maceyko of WTW Architects in Cleveland said her firm specializes in student unions and the current Kilcawley Center is larger than what YSU needs.

When he first began to look at the project Trustees Michael Peterson recognized that enrollment numbers are declining with many more students electing to take classes online instead of move to campus or commute. But he now sees the benefit of making improvements.

Trustee Joseph Kerola said groups of students interviewed for the project said they wanted a place they can call home. He credited Joy Polkabla Byers, associate vice president of student experience division of student affairs, with speaking to a tremendous number of the users of the facilities to learn student opinion of the current Kilcawley Center, if students wanted or needed a student union and what services and amenities they wanted to find there. A group of 15 students from YSU traveled to other universities to look at their facilities.

The results – students want a “living room,” space to gather, places to eat, the opportunity to participate and lead organizations, a community kitchen to hone their cooking skills and places to study. Students like more open spaces where they can meet friends and more small available spaces where they can have meetings. They want convenient store items, late night food and entertainment space. When they need IT assistance or information, they want a designated place they can go.

Students love the central location of the current Kilcawley Center and a new student union could cost nearly $110 million if it is constructed on either the existing Kilcawley site or in another location. One such location considered was the parking facility at the intersection of Fifth and Lincoln Avenue, which is slated for demolition.

With cost in mind, Polkabla Byers and Maceyko said they turned their attention toward renovating the existing space instead. While refreshing the entire Kilcawley Center would cost as much as $57 million, doing a smaller project renovating between 125,000 and 130,000 square feet is projected at $31 to $40 million.

While renovating a residence hall or classroom building benefits only the number of students who regularly use that space, the renovation of the Kilcawley Center would benefit everyone, according to Maceyko. “You get a lot of value for money spent.”

As YSU tries to balance spending money and declining enrollment, it was noted the campus might not need to take up as large of a footprint in the future.

“What do we need, not just what we want,” said Kerola, adding it is imperative the usable space for students is sized right.

Trustee Molly S. Seals said the new space needs to take into consideration the physical challenges of some people utilizing the building and have that “wow factor,” even if it is just at the entrances to attract and retain students.

John Hyden, the associate vice president for support services, said the project has yet to be designed and space inside the building that is not renovated for use now could be “mothballed” and used down the road. At this point drawings included in the presentation are only conceptual.

Trustee Helen K. Lafferty lauded the committee’s efforts in speaking with so many stakeholders who will be utilizing the space, focusing on student needs and in keeping the university’s strategic plan in mind.
“We might not have all the bells and whistles of another university, but we will have all the bells and whistles our students need,” Lafferty said.

Peterson said the study gave them a chance to go directly to their customers—the students—to determine what they want. He added this project could be a deciding factor for students looking at universities.

“We can make it functional and impact the university in a positive way,” Peterson said.

When Seals commuted to the university years ago, she said Kilcawley was “the cool place to be” and the only spot on campus where she felt like she belonged. While YSU attempts to attract students locally, nationally and abroad a student union with all the amenities could give them an edge.

Tressel and McNally also talked about the importance of making certain the project financially makes sense. According to the study, YSU will have $24 million in deferred maintenance during the project, but the cost may have to include a small increase in student fees, philanthropy and bond debt, with McNally cautioning that interest rates are increasing.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.