Transforming Kent State

The new facilities master plan for the Kent Campus, to be completed over the next decade, will result in new buildings, improvements to existing buildings and parking, greater pedestrian access—and a signature new gateway to the university.

By Susan Menassa

First impressions carry a lot of weight, especially when prospective students shop for colleges. Some call it a feeling, others say they just knew the minute they arrived on campus. It is hard to pinpoint exactly what influences students’ enrollment decisions, but one thing is certain—how a university rolls out its welcome mat can make all the difference. 

In an effort to enhance that welcome, Kent State University earlier this year unveiled its Gateway to a Distinctive Kent State, a $1 billion facilities master plan that will transform the look and feel of the iconic, front-facing entrance to the Kent Campus and elevate its presence both locally and well beyond Northeast Ohio. 

The plan, to be implemented in three phases over the next 10 years, includes new building construction and renovations to existing structures that will add classrooms, studios and labs, plus more green space, sidewalks and bike trails. The transformation also will extend Front Campus along Main Street—removing two existing entrances and creating one signature gateway to the university at Midway Drive.

“We have always taken great pride in our Front Campus,” says Kent State President Beverly Warren. “But you drive past, and it is over in a blink of an eye. With this plan in place, when you turn the corner onto Main Street and head toward Horning Road, you will see a transformed campus.”

The plan, approved by Kent State’s Board of Trustees in March, has been in development over the last two years. The university held a series of town hall and community meetings to help inform the process and gathered input from Kent State students, faculty and staff. 

“We wanted it to be as inclusive as possible,” President Warren says. “We held over 16 meetings and more than 500 community members attended those sessions, and we have taken into consideration all the suggestions offered.”

The result is a plan that will forge a stronger bond with the city of Kent as well as prospective students. “President Warren’s presentation of the master plan concepts to the Kent City Council is keeping the town/gown spirit energized and our momentum moving forward,” says Kent City Manager Dave Ruller. “We are on the edge of the next round of transformative projects that will give the Kent community a chance to show, once again, that we do our best work when we work together, as we partner to keep our hometown vital, vibrant, and meaningful to residents, students, businesses and visitors for decades to come.”

“What we are proposing is not just a transformed campus but a transformation of Main Street and the community, as well.”

—President Beverly Warren

The plan aligns with the university’s strategic priorities that President Warren outlined in 2015—putting students first, making a distinctive Kent State, increasing the university’s global competitiveness, enhancing its regional impact and ensuring continuous and sustainable improvement of its resources and infrastructure. 

“We are moving on an upward trajectory that means great things for Kent State and the surrounding community,” President Warren says. “While we are talking about the Kent Campus in this plan, the regional campuses have their own master plans, governed by their unique resource opportunities, and I congratulate each of them for ongoing projects that will improve their teaching and learning environments and welcome their surrounding communities.”

The university is taking a unique approach to funding the first phase of this master plan, using a “P4” initiative—public-private partnerships through philanthropy. 

The goal of this model is to keep the university from issuing debt by requiring prospective developers to add financing models to their design proposals, says Mark Polatajko, PhD, Kent State’s senior vice president for finance and administration. Developers will be required to emphasize philanthropic donations as the primary revenue source, which helps offset project costs and the ongoing lease payments. 

“Over half of the proposed funding for the Kent Gateway facilities master plan is expected to come from philanthropic support, as well as public-private partnerships,” Dr. Polatajko says.

 “Our board said ‘let’s be pragmatic, let’s be prudent and let’s utilize the strength of our financial position.’ And that is what we are doing—we are using the unrealized market gains from a strong performance over the last 25 months to fund the university’s portion.”

Phase one is expected to cost $240 million and be completed in 2020. About $30 million will come from the state capital budget, another $63.4 million from university investments and the remaining $127.4 million is to be funded from philanthropy and public-private partnerships.

The cornerstone of the first phase is the construction of a new College of Business Administration building, which will anchor the new gateway at Main Street and Midway Drive.  

Four developers presented design proposals for the College of Business Administration building to university and community members in April, along with their plans for financing. The winning bidder will own the building, and the university will lease it from them under the P4 model. Construction is slated to begin by late 2018. (See page 22.)

Renovations to White Hall are also scheduled in the first phase, as is the creation of an Innovation Hub in the old School of Art Building, which will be renovated to include a lecture hall, studios, classrooms, makerspaces and dining. 

The Starbucks/Captain Brady’s building, an iconic Tudor structure on university-owned land at the corner of Lincoln and Main streets, will remain standing under the master plan. It will be renovated to facilitate innovation by creating a space where entrepreneurs from the city of Kent can engage with aspiring entrepreneurs at Kent State. Additional retail and meeting spaces, as well as an expansion of the esplanade between Haymaker Parkway and Rockwell Hall, will further connect the city and the university.

In addition to parking garages slated to replace surface lots, which will create more green space, President Warren says plans call for a trolley system along Main Street to help alleviate traffic congestion and encourage people to walk and ride bikes.

As the first phase of the master plan gets underway later this year, Kent State’s new front door will likely have its biggest impact on the those who make up the foundation of the university—its students.

“Students will be drawn to this,” President Warren says. “What we are proposing is not just a transformed campus but a transformation of Main Street and the community, as well.”

To learn more about the other phases of the Gateway to a Distinctive Kent State plan, visit

Gateway to a Distinctive Kent State

Over the next 10 years, Kent State University will undergo dynamic changes that will transform both the look and the operations of the institution. The conceptual rendering of the new Main Street gateway (at the top of this page) and the phase one project map (below) are draft illustrations designed to bring the vision of the Kent State master plan to life.

Phase One Project Map

1. Consolidated Main Street Entrance at Midway Drive will create a new signature gateway to the university’s iconic front campus

2. New College of Business Administration Building (COBA) will anchor the new Main Street gateway; the building will be selected by a design competition and funded by a philanthropy-driven public/private partnership contract

3. Multiuse Parking Deck Structure across from the new COBA Building, which will be owned by the developer and leased to the university, will include retail and a welcome center to introduce visitors to the Kent Campus

4. White Hall Renovations will enhance the façade and create welcoming new entries that focus on the pedestrian experience

5. Rockwell Hall Addition/Renovation will add a 500-seat lecture hall complete with fashion runway, classrooms, sewing studios, collaboration and makerspaces, as well as faculty and staff office areas

6. Interdisciplinary Studios, Innovation Zone and Retail Space will further connect the university to the city of Kent through a public/private partnership on university-owned land at Lincoln and Main streets. It will provide studios and makerspaces that also support the Fashion School and the College of Architecture and Environmental Design 

7. Kent State University Airport Classroom Building will replace the “temporary” trailers at the airport, located northwest of the Kent Campus

8. Innovation Hub and Dining Space will transform the old School of Art Building into a Design and Innovation Center that includes a lecture hall, classrooms, studios and 24/7 makerspaces and dining

9. Integrated Sciences Building Lab buildout will finish 13,500 square feet of basement space in the new building for additional labs

10. Aeronautics and Technology Building Addition will include a 150-seat lecture hall, classrooms, instructional and research labs and faculty offices that will enable Kent State to nearly double student enrollment and research in aerospace engineering and mechatronics

Back to Spring/Summer 2018

Updated: Friday, December 9, 2022 03:31 AM
Susan Menassa