Lake Inferior, which collects rainwater run off in the center of campus, will get a whole new look – as well as a new name – as a $2 million renovation project moves forward.
A committee made up of students, alumni and administrators is studying possible upgrades to the lakefront area, that is now home to flocks of geese and ducks, and making other, more cosmetic, changes to the campus in an effort to boost school spirit.
The Student Government Association voted at the Oct. 27 meeting to have its public relations committee oversee these changes, along with the Office of Student Life, the Department of Residential Housing, the Alumni Association, the Athletics Department and the Department of Campus Recreation.
According to Don Gorbandt, assistant vice president of university development, a corporate donor who wishes to remain anonymous last year contributed $500,000 to the project, and has committed an additional $500,000 challenge grant.
Gorbandt said his office hopes to complete fundraising within three-to-six months.
“We’re currently meeting with other prospective donors to meet the other $500,000 match,” Gorbandt said. “We’ve raised about $50,000 on the challenge so far, but we’ve got several major asks out there.”
No specific timetable has been established for the project, but Gorbandt said, “Once the money is in hand, the project will start soon after.”
Kent Kelso, dean of students, said the plan is part of an initiative to encourage students to spend more time on campus, and possible upgrades could include landscaping, trees and a gazebo, as well as the removal of the goose and duck populations.
Gorbandt said preliminary plans also call for a walking bridge, waterfalls and a $500,000 amphitheater for student performances.
“(The committee is) looking to bring some real aesthetic appeal to that area (and) create some spaces that students would feel like hanging out in (and) taking advantage of,” Kelso said. “Right now, very seldom – if ever – do I see students over there on that grassy slope.”
A spirit committee was convened last year to study the possibility of creating areas on campus where students could gather and, to encourage school spirit, increase the amount of school colors on campus and rename some university institutions, including the school mascot, which is now Hey Yu.
“Part of the charge for that spirit committee was to think of a new name for the lake,” Kelso said.
He said that the committee, which is no longer sitting, was given no direction from school administrators to name the lake after the donor.
“At the same time,” Kelso added, “we have also not ruled out that the lake could be named after the donor, so that’s still open for discussion. But I think a campus lake is typically named by students, first of all, and that name, typically, has some kind of a symbolic meaning.”
Kelso said the name, Lake Inferior, could be considered demeaning, and may refer to a time in the university’s past when NKU was not as highly regarded as it is now.
“What I’ve heard people say is that this university used to be called the ‘No Knowledge College,'” Kelso said. “It all comes with kind of a negative connotation.”
“I think that there’s a certain number of students and others – whether it be alumni or faculty and staff – that would be interested in actually naming the lake in such a manner that it has a positive connotation,” Kelso said.
However, he said, he realizes there are those who disagree.
“There’s the other side of the house that feel like, well, Lake Inferior is now a tradition, and that was a name that was allegedly selected by students long ago and we should honor that,” Kelso said.
Some students, however, oppose more than just the name change.
Sarah Montgomery, founder of the Native American Student Organization, said her group has been planning a cleanup of the lake, which many believe to be heavily polluted. She said the renovations would only make the problem worse.
“In my view, it’s not ecologically correct,” Montgomery said. “If you think about it, with what pollution is already in the lake, you’re just adding more by digging or spilling gas.”
Kelso said he is aware of student concerns over the water quality.
“They consider it unhealthy or toxic,” he said. “I’ve heard all kinds of various terms used.”
Part of the problem, Kelso said, is that rainwater may wash goose and duck droppings into the lake, which is the primary reason that the birds will be removed.
“It really boils down to the mess that they make,” Kelso said of the waterfowl.
“It’s kind of hard to go out and take your sandwich out there and sit down on the slope without sitting in something that you don’t necessarily want to carry into the next class with you.”