When Bryan Russell attended Western Kentucky University in 1984, campus looked a lot different.

After he came back to WKU in 1999 to help renovate some residence halls, he saw how students’ expectations of campus were beginning to change. The project involved removing old-fashioned group bathrooms and adding more private facilities shared by every two rooms.

“It really added some very nice amenities and more privacy,” Russell said. “That’s really what our students of today are looking for.”

Now, after the addition of more than 20 campus dining locations, a 14,000-square-foot addition to the student fitness center and several other projects, WKU’s campus is continuing to evolve to meet the expectations of students, faculty and staff.

“Their expectations are different,” Russell said of students. “Faculty and staff expectations are different.”

Among those expectations, Russell said, are buildings that can be climatized and controlled year-round with upgraded heating, ventilation and air conditioning.

“Not all of our buildings are capable of that,” Russell said. “Even though we’ve done a lot at Western Kentucky University to make improvements and totally renovate buildings, I would say we’re only halfway there.”

Buildings like Gordon Wilson Hall, Russell said, have had trouble keeping cooler indoor temperature with this year’s unusually warm winter because the building’s system can only offer air conditioning or heating at one time of year.

“We’ve got things to do,” Russell said.

However, Russell said WKU has made strides in several other areas. That includes improving infrastructure for pedestrians around campus, adding parking and busing options and completing renovations on the Downing Student Union, which Russell described as a “wonderful living room for the university,” equipped with food venues and meeting spaces.

But over the past 10 years, Russell said perhaps the biggest improvement is something that people see daily: WKU’s energy policy and infrastructure.

In 2015, the campus earned recognition as one of the U.S. Department of Education’s Green Ribbon schools for its sustainability efforts.

“We have been able to really reduce our energy consumption, starting in about 2008, from using about 15 kilowatts per hour per square foot,” Russell said. “We’re now down to about 11 kilowatts per square foot in a building. At the same time we’ve actually increased our gross square footage of the university by 774,000 gross square feet.”

Russell said that’s kept WKU’s utility budget from growing at a rapid pace.

“At the same time we’ve been able to use any money that we might not have spent in that utility line,” he said. “We just put that back into more projects.”

One of those projects includes going coal-free by replacing the campus steam plant with gas-fired boilers, Russell said.

The university maintains more than 3,600 trees on campus by replacing any removed tree with two more, Russell said, adding that WKU has arboretum status.

“It actually makes us a destination for visitors to come to our campus and to learn about different trees,” he said.

Leah Hopwood, an arborist for WKU, agreed and said the campus acts as an environment that’s “inviting, that enables you to think.”

“It does make a student feel more relaxed in a home environment,” she said, adding she also sees joggers and dog walkers around campus.

Across campus, Hopwood said there are 25 different genera of trees, referring to subgroups that contain more than one species.

Along with standing out to students, Hopwood said it also “proves that the university is trying to be environmental stewards.”

Perhaps the most visible addition to campus are the additional buildings.

“We have 6 million gross square feet on campus if you count all the floors,” Russell said, adding the student quality of life has also improved.

Part of that improvement, he said, includes selling a small piece of campus property between Adams and Kentucky streets to add a CVS for students living nearby.

“It allows them to go over there and get quick groceries,” medicine and other supplies, he said. The campus also provides regular buses to a Wal-Mart on Morgantown Road for other supplies.

As for current projects, the campus is building a new parking garage in a parking lot adjacent to Creason Street.

A new project to complete Ogden College Hall, which will total 83,000 gross square feet, will include new science labs for students along with other facilities.

The university recently agreed with Aramark on a new 20-year dining services contract that includes renovations for the Garrett Conference Center, a building that dates to the early 1950s.

However, a new building for the Gordon Ford College of Business is WKU’s top priority down the road, Russell said.

“That’s our No. 1 request” for state funding, Russell said.

When asked when that money might come, Russell said he was unsure.

– Follow education reporter Aaron Mudd on Twitter @BGDN_edbeat or visit bgdailynews.com.


Education reporter. Covers education and related issues, focusing primarily on the Bowling Green and Warren County public school districts and Western Kentucky University.

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