Eastern Kentucky University’s Lancaster Center, located on the city’s courthouse square, held its ribbon cutting and grand opening ceremony on Tuesday, April 25, in celebration of the newly renovated facility.
Many supporters of the restoration project were present for the ceremony, including Kentucky House Majority Leader Jonathan Shell, Garrard County Judge-Executive John Wilson, former State Rep. Lonnie Napier, project architect Chris Cottongim, Garrard County Schools Superintendent Corey Keith, and Garrard County High School Principal Kalem Grasham. EKU President Dr. Michael Benson and EKU Vice President of Engagement, Regional Stewardship and Government Relations Dr. David McFaddin delivered remarks on behalf of the University.
Referring to the transformation of the facility and the opportunity it presents to Garrard Countians, Benson told the crowd of attendees, “This is a true maroon-letter day.”
The restoration project has been one that represents a true community partnership between EKU, Garrard County Fiscal Court and the Commonwealth.
The University purchased the future home of the EKU Lancaster Center in 2012, but it wasn’t until 2013 that a plan was agreed upon to move the project forward. The site, originally a department store, and had been badly neglected and was in significant disrepair before funds were secured for the dramatic improvement. Due to the unfavorable conditions, EKU Lancaster staff had been operating out of a nearby leased space until completion of the restoration project.
At the ribbon cutting ceremony, Benson expressed the importance of EKU having a presence in Garrard County and described how funding was obtained for the building’s restoration.
“As part of our long-term strategic plan to boost economic development, Judge Executive John Wilson and my predecessor, Doug Whitlock, partnered to acquire a community development block grant to renovate the structure,” Benson noted. “Grant funding for the project was received from the Kentucky Department of Local Government and the Appalachian Regional Commission.”
The renovation took several years and presented many challenges. However, project leaders made a concerted effort to preserve many of the natural spaces that existed, and ensured the finished product was representative of both the community and University.
“If you were ever in this space prior to how it is today, you know it has been a phenomenal restoration,” said McFaddin.
Benson added, “We can all take great pride in knowing that this building will now serve as a model for the repurposing of historic buildings to increase educational attainment, and enhance community development.”
Wilson also expressed excitement about the new addition.
“We are so proud to open the EKU center in Lancaster,” Wilson said. “This culmination of years of hard work will help revitalize our downtown, offer unique educational opportunities for our people and create economic development in our community. This is truly a historic day for Garrard County, as it will help raise our standard of living and quality of life.”
The EKU Lancaster Center will present dual credit courses for high school students, college-level general education classes for traditional and non-traditional students, and adult education courses through the Garrard County Adult Education program.
“This new facility and our centers in Manchester, Corbin and Danville underscore EKU’s continued strong commitment to serving this region with top-notch educational programs and services,” said Benson. “It is my hope and the hope of all of us at EKU that all those students who enter the doors of this center will forever find their dreams answered here at the EKU Lancaster Center.”
Speaking of programming at the Richmond campus, Shell noted how similar opportunities will now be extended to more residents of Garrard County. “This institution is going to pull people we have here in our community out of poverty,” said Shell.
Shell elaborated about how leaders from Garrard County middle and high schools, along with the Adult Education Program, are working in partnership with EKU to ensure that community members are provided high quality education that results in local, long-term employment. Shell also expressed his appreciation for Napier and his vision to bring higher education to Garrard County.
“I am extremely grateful to Representative Napier and the work he put in to make sure things started,” Shell said. “I’m so glad that he asked that question of what it would take to get a college in our town, and it’s just something I’m privileged to push forward.”
Benson closed with a message of inspiration. “Let’s think for a moment about the symbolism here. Just as this building has been repurposed for a brighter future, that is exactly what will happen when students walk through its doors. Thanks to the services that will be provided here, they will walk away with a newfound purpose in their own lives and better able to contribute to the continued growth of this fine community.”
For more information about the EKU Lancaster Center, visit www.lancaster.eku.edu or contact the office at 859-622-7108.