Beautifying Belknap

Mrs. Jane Ramsey and UofL President, Dr. James Ramsey in front of Grawemeyer Hall.

Mrs. Jane Ramsey and UofL President, Dr. James Ramsey in front of Grawemeyer Hall.

It’s a pretty serious understatement to say that the University of Louisville’s Belknap Campus has undergone some renovations in the past few years.

Heavy-duty construction has transformed what was an unremarkable cluster of buildings into an open, inviting collegiate oasis. Just 10 years into their efforts, the power couple behind the campus’ about-face, University President Dr. James Ramsey and his wife Jane have certainly made their mark – and they’re just getting started.

Both Louisville natives, Dr. and Mrs. Ramsey traveled across state lines for years for Dr. Ramsey’s teaching career. But strong family ties kept the Ramseys returning to the River City for frequent visits.

“Louisville was always our home,” said Dr. Ramsey.

In 1999, Dr. Ramsey returned for good after accepting an offer to teach economics at the University of Louisville’s School of Business. Just three years later, he was appointed UofL’s president.

Dr. Ramsey can recall sitting in a quadrangle on campus, awaiting the university board’s decision to promote him. Marveling at the serene beauty of the courtyard, it occurred to him that most Louisvillians had no idea that the gorgeous greenspace even existed.

This really is a nice campus, but you don’t know it. You have to get out of your car and walk in to see the nice areas,” he realized.

Rodin's The "Thinker" Statue in front of Grawemeyer Hall.

Rodin's The "Thinker" Statue in front of Grawemeyer Hall.

With an appreciation for the hidden beauty of the campus – and its potential – Dr. Ramsey hatched a plan to transform the look of the community under his care. His top priority was to improve the university’s graduation rate. But Dr. Ramsey understood that environment played a crucial part in the equation, that he needed to “make this a campus where the very best students want to come, and … be engaged in the campus.”

Mrs. Ramsey, having grown up in the surrounding neighborhood, stepped in and organized a beautification committee made up of local representatives and business associations. They obtained one million dollars in federal funding to support the project.

The committee began by painting adjacent overpasses in the traditional red and black, and painting cardinals on the streets and sidewalks to give the area a distinctive campus identity.

“It’s amazing what paint will do,” said Dr. Ramsey.

Lighting was added to areas that needed increased visibility for safety and to buildings in order to highlight their architectural features. The elegant Grawemeyer Hall, Belknap Campus’ main administrative building and home base for Dr. Ramsey, is currently undergoing an installation that will illuminate the building’s signature dome from the outside.

Aggressive landscaping came next. This included replacing the dead grass on the great lawn in front of Grawemeyer and planting more than 500 trees along Third Street and other roads lining Belknap. They created the small but charming entrance at the corner of Eastern Parkway and Third Street, a signature bench where visitors can stop and sit. Construction is underway for another entrance, this one on the North end of campus facing DuPont Manual High School.

The stairs and brickwork at the University of Louisville are a part of a major redesign on the corner of 3rd Street and Eastern Parkway.

The stairs and brickwork at the University of Louisville are a part of a major redesign on the corner of third Street and Eastern Parkway.

Additional grants funded the university’s expansive signature fountain and its grand oval entrance, which was designed by Frederick Olmsted and modeled after the great lawn at the University of Virginia. Bricks were inlaid at Third Street in front of the new entrance to give visitors a sense of having arrived on Louisville’s campus and inviting them to pull in and admire Auguste Rodin’s first cast of The Thinker, which can be seen on the steps of Grawemeyer Hall. The once-greenish Thinker, a gift from the city of Louisville, was cleaned and restored to its original sheen.

Seeking to improve not only aesthetics but also functionality and safety, Dr. Ramsey made use of the Transportation Efficiency Act to fund a rebuild of the Eastern Parkway overpass, which replaced an unsafe structure.

With all they’ve accomplished, Dr. and Mrs. Ramsey have no intentions of stopping now. Construction will soon begin on a new road and overpass that will lead into a 33-acre academic research park located behind the Speed School. While it will take several years to complete, Dr. Ramsey is confident that UofL will reap great benefits from this project in the long run: “The university will need it in the next thirty or forty years.”

The Ramseys clearly haven’t lost perspective about why all of these projects matter.

“It’s a piece of the puzzle that’s allowing us to get the very best students from across the state of Kentucky,” Dr. Ramsey explained. “The thing I’m most proud of is that our six-year graduation rate has gone up from 30 percent to 51 percent.”

Added Mrs. Ramsey: “And the kids do want to stay here more…. It looks like a real campus.”