$5.2 million gift from Gray, Inc., to create new home for UK College of Design

Gray Design building to become landmark entry into Lexington

LEXINGTON, Ky. (WTVQ/PRESS RELEASE)A transformative gift of more than $5.2 million will create a new home for the University of Kentucky’s College of Design and an exciting entry point into Lexington.

According to UK, the gift from Gray, Inc., which includes companies related to engineering, design, construction, automation, manufacturing and real estate, and members of the Gray family, was approved by the University of Kentucky Board of Trustees in Friday’s meeting.

UK reports the donation will allow the university to realize a renovation and revitalization of the Reynolds Building – a former tobacco warehouse that has been empty for several years – into a vibrant new space for Design’s five programs.

“This gift will give us the opportunity to transform a historic but terribly stressed building into the Gray Design Building – home of UK’s College of Design,” said UK President Eli Capilouto. “It sits at a critical nexus between campus and community.”

According to UK, it would be the first time that the college’s students, faculty, staff and programs would be housed in one location – a move that will also allow for even greater collaboration between the college and other programs across the campus, including Landscape Architecture, which will cohabitate with Design in the new structure and Biomedical Engineering, which will share studio space and curriculum with the new Product Design program.

In collaboration with UK’s College of Engineering and the Gatton School of Business and Economics, the College of Design also will work with faculty leadership to establish a design-build curriculum.

The property – to be named the Gray Design Building – sits facing Broadway on one side and the UK campus on the other, making it a landmark entry into Lexington.

“Appropriate for a College of Design, the facility will be a stunning entry point to UK. It is exactly the kind of project Secretary (and former Mayor Jim) Gray and I have discussed often over the years – a marriage of form and function that will enhance what we do academically, in service to our state and as a symbol of the inextricable links between Lexington and the university,” explained Capilouto.

UK says it’s slated to break ground later this year and was designed by internationally renowned architecture practice Studio Gang over the last several years, and when complete, will represent one of the most significant examples on the UK campus of “adaptive reuse” – the idea of using preservation and sustainability techniques and efforts to repurpose older, historic facilities in new ways.

Gray, Inc. is the owner of Gray Construction, a family-owned business that is considered one of the pre-eminent design-build companies in the country. The family has deep roots in Lexington and the Commonwealth and is recognized as an industry leader in design-build.

“As a family and on behalf of our team members, it’s the privilege of a lifetime to make this investment in UK’s College of Design, which includes the School of Architecture where we’ve had a special kinship for almost 50 years,” said Jim Gray. Franklin Gray, a graduate of the College, added, “We’re honored to play a role in expanding UK’s educational influence across the state and in helping to attract the best students, faculty and staff.”

Gray is currently secretary of the state’s Transportation Cabinet. That followed two four-year terms as Lexington’s mayor, during which investment in cutting-edge design and reuse projects – such as the recently unveiled Central Bank Civic Center – were a priority.

“At a time when reinventing existing buildings is essential to conserve resources and decarbonize, this generous gift allows us to realize the transformation of the disused Reynolds building into a vibrant hub for cross-disciplinary design education,” said Studio Gang Founding Partner Jeanne Gang. “It is particularly meaningful that this gift comes from the Gray family, as they have been passionate champions of the value that great design can bring for both the people and the city of Lexington.”

Dean Mitzi Vernon is inspired to see this years-long vision finally come to life, thanks to major efforts by Assistant Vice President for Philanthropy Don Witt. “The Gray gift is one that will continue to give over generations of students, coming at just the right moment as the College of Design expands,” she said. “More importantly the gift allows us to enlist the open warehouse space and embrace our role as preservationists and cross-disciplinarians, taking on the urgency of contemporary issues of climate change and inequality.”

According to UK, K Norman Berry Associate Architects, which has a vested interest in the College of Design, served as the Architect of Record. “KNBA has been a champion of the College of Design for over 50 years, beginning with partner emeritus Norman Berry as a member of the inaugural graduating class of 1965. Since that time, over 40 UK graduates have been valuable team members of KNBA, including all current firm leadership,” said Bob Haffermann, AIA, Managing Principal of K Norman Berry Associate Architects.

Capilouto said the College of Design project will be the first one on the UK campus to take advantage of the asset preservation fund established by the state legislature in its recently completed session.

The recently adopted two-year budget for the state of Kentucky created an asset preservation pool with more than $154 million of state bonds — that will be matched in part by UK — to renew historic academic facilities in our campus core. 

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