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Faculty Senate discusses downtown arts campus

The pursuit of campus-wide support regarding a unified performing arts facility made its way to the Faculty Senate last Tuesday, ahead of an announcement this week about potential funding for the project.

Administrators want to construct a single location that would allow students to warm up, rehearse and perform altogether, instead of traveling back and forth between three separate buildings for a string of activities. Dean of the Conservatory of Music and Dance Peter Witte presented faculty leaders with an outline of the plan at the Senate meeting.

“What will make it work are significant external investments,” Witte said.

The plan would relocate the performing arts departments onto a unified campus downtown, surrounded by the Crossroads Art District and the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.

He cited the explosion of development in the downtown area, along with $6 billion worth of investment since 2000. The proposal is unique because it generates academic funding from the business sector instead of using government aid or debt financing, through a competition by the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce called the “Big Five.”

The chamber initiated its “Big Five” project in April to identify five significant proposals that could enhance the downtown area over the next few years. A list of more than 180 submissions was reduced to 20 semifinalists this summer, including the performing arts development.

Pledging a multiyear commitment to the top five choices, the chamber will find resources around town that can push those ideas toward success. It’s expected to announce the finalists on Tuesday.

Nonetheless, a move downtown would benefit the school with a world-class performing arts campus and the city with an influx of students and faculty looking for places to live in the area.

Previous plans to build a unified facility collapsed with the economy.

“Originally, the price tag was $98 million. We couldn’t raise that,” Provost Gail Hackett said. “Then it dropped to $48 million a few years ago, half provided by the state, then the state dropped out. Then it dropped to $18 million and we still couldn’t raise that. Even if we could raise that number, we are not going to get the facilities that the units, all of whom are world-class, need.”

Scattered buildings aren’t the only problem either.

The quality of rehearsal areas is not considered up to par with most of the other universities in the Midwest, particularly in Missouri and Kansas.

With inadequate conditions, “it’s difficult when you go out to high schools to recruit,” Dance Associate Professor Sabrina Madison-Cannon said.

Regardless, proponents are simply shopping the plan right now, since no decisions will be detailed until the feasibility study is completed after December.

The feasibility study will analyze things such as where performing arts students would take other classes like English, or what would happen to the performing arts buildings on the Volker campus.

In addition, the Senate clarified procedures for approving designation of the specially created title, UMKC Distinguished Professorship. The new title was created to honor non-tenure track faculty members for extraordinary achievements during a career or for those who received a national or international award such as a Pulitzer Prize.

The special title would be designated for the duration of active employment with UMKC.

“I think it’s about time and I’m glad you’re doing it,” Pharmacy Professor Jack Fincham said.

One closing topic for consideration was the need to modify employee pension plans.

Right now, the school pays $1.09 in healthcare for every $1.00 it brings in. That number is expected to increase with healthcare costs rising 10 percent annually.

A revision to the current plan would rebalance the stability of the healthcare coverage and increase the number of employees who are enrolled with retirement accounts.

“The goal is to provide every university employee, wage and hourly, with retirement options,” Faculty Senate Chair Gary Ebersole said.

ltrigg@unews.com

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