By Kevin Collison
The Kansas City Art Institute celebrated a remarkable six-year turn around Wednesday at the grand opening of its new Barbara Marshall Residence Hall, part of a $30 million construction boom at the venerable campus.
The 223-bed residence hall, student center and dining hall replaces an obsolete dorm built in 1972 and symbolizes the current renaissance of the school that began with the hiring of Tony Jones, the Nerman Family President, in late 2014.
“What Tony Jones has accomplished in the last five years is awe-inspiring and nothing short of transformational for the Kansas City Art Institute,” Frank Uryasz, chairman of the KCAI board, told an audience at the opening.
Before Jones arrived from Chicago, where he was president emeritas of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, KCAI’s previous president, Jacqueline Chanda, had retired following a no confidence vote by the faculty after serving three years.
Within months after Jones arrival, the school received a $25 million anonymous grant that boosted both rebuilding the campus and increasing its enrollment.
KCAI expects its enrollment to increase to 750 students over the next couple years, up from 640 last year.
The new residence hall is named after Barbara Hall Marshall of the Hall Family. She is an emeritas member of the Board of Trustees who received an honorary doctorate from KCAI in 2017.
The new facility is part of the strategy to attract and retain top art students from around the nation.
“This is a game changer,” Jones told the audience. “This will make an enormous difference to students living here…it’s not just transformational, but spiritually uplifting.”
The residence hall designed by Helix Architecture + Design and built by J.E. Dunn Construction features four-person semi-suites, two per room with a shared bathroom. Its contemporary feel is accented by the concrete walls and high ceilings.
Jones said both current and former students were surveyed to determine the design and the amenities of their new housing. He said many were puzzled when asked if the building should be wired for cable, preferring the best broad band wi-fi instead.
“These are different kinds of students, they’re millennials, very smart and they think of work in a different way,” he said. “The students who’ve seen it are gobsmacked.”
Other features of the residence hall include a fitness center, lounge space, underground parking, art galleries on the third and fourth floor, and something any former student would appreciate, free laundry machines.
The students will be moving into their new home Jan. 24.
The new residence complex also includes the Sherman Family Student Union, the school’s first-ever student union, and a spacious cafeteria space: Wylie Dining for full meals, and Café Nerman for a la carte items.
And in a nod to the community, both Wylie Dining and the Café Nerman are open to the public beginning Jan. 27.
The old dormitory is being renovated into new classroom space for the school’s fastest growing programs, illustration and animation. It also will include a new, 6,000 square-foot art gallery, the KCAI Crossroads Gallery.
The renovation project is expected to be completed by August, in time for the fall semester.
Rounding out the construction program, the school’s new liberal arts building, DeBruce Hall, is expected to be completed in April. The 18,000 square-foot facility designed by Hufft architecture is at northeast corner of 44th and Oak.
Jones said he hopes the new Barbara Mashall Hall and the public dining facilities will make the Art Institute campus a bridge between the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art and The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.
He envisions the three institutions as a cultural district that will be easily accessed with the anticipated extension of the streetcar down Main. A stop nearby at 45th and Main is planned.
“We want this to be a cultural district that will represent the best of this community,” he said.
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