KCAI Launches Liberal Arts Project, Part of $30M Campus Overhaul

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Tony Jones has led the 134 year-old KC Art Institute since late 2014.

By Kevin Collison

The Kansas City Art Institute kicked off construction of a new liberal arts building last week, part of a $30 million campus building program that’s creating a new future for the 134 year-old school.

“This is a pivotal moment in our college’s history,” said Tony Jones, the Nerman Family President of KCAI. “This building will be transformative for our programs.

“It will be the heartbeat of the campus because everyone will be working here.”

On a brilliant, mild April morning, Jones addressed an audience gathered on the lawn at the northeast corner of 44th and Oak where the 18,000 square-foot facility designed by Hufft of Kansas City is being built.

Across Oak Street, the tower crane was visible above a new 244-bed student residence hall and dining center being built along Warwick Boulevard.

Once that project, designed by Helix Architure + Design, is complete, the existing dormitories will be renovated into classrooms in 2020.

Jones estimated $30 million is being invested on the new Liberal Arts facility, student residence hall and the classroom conversion project.

It’s energizing a campus that will be only a block away from a stop planned for the extension of the Main Street streetcar line.

The new Paul and Linda DeBruce Hall is expected to be a center of campus life at the KC Art Institute. (Image from Hufft)

He anticipated enrollment at KCAI is expected to increase from 640 students to 700-725 students over the next five years.

The new Liberal Arts facility is being named the Paul and Linda DeBruce Hall after their primary donors. DeBruce is the former chairman and CEO of DeBruce Grain, Inc.

The design of the building is intended to blend with the neighborhood, an area of stately turn of the 20th Century mansions.

The new building is being designed to be a “classroom in a garden,” Jones told the audience at the groundbreaking.

“We thought it was a perfect match for the right scale of the building for the scale of the site,” he said.

“The architects took key notes from the surrounding buildings. It’s more residential than institutional.”

Jones thanked City Councilwoman Kathryn Shields for her help in getting the project approved in a neighborhood known for fiercely protecting its environment.

Construction is well underway on a new residence hall at KCAI. Once completed, the existing dorms on the right will be renovated as classroom space.

The new building will house the college’s art history, creative writing and liberal arts programs, and student services.

It also will be the home of a new minor in Entrepreneurial Studies in Art and Design. The program is intended to provide business skills to help artists and designers pursue their own ventures.

The new KCAI program is a partnership with The Regnier Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, a program of the Henry W. Bloch School of Management at UMKC.

Jones has galvanized the KC Art Institute after arriving from Chicago in 2014. His initial hire was as interim president, but he was named to the position full-time in 2015.

The British native said he hopes to continue his tenure at KCAI for the foreseeable future.

“I’m a servant of the board,” he said. “We love Kansas City and my wife has established a studio here.”

Shovels decorated by KC Art Institute students were used for the groundbreaking.

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